By Jesse Wood
May 8, 2013. High Country Host held its annual meeting last night and talk ranged from the new branding the co-op marketing organization is undergoing to growth in tourism as the recession slowly fades into the distance.
Now in its 33rd year, High Country Host, an advertising co-op which has approximately 200 members, continues to attract visitors to the area with extensive marketing campaigns in key target areas such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Atlanta and other cities just a drive away from the mountains.
Candice Cook, marketing director for High Country Host, addressed advertising opportunities for its members in the 2013-14 year, where the organization gets bulk-rate deals with high-circulation magazines.
Also presented at the meeting was the organization’s upcoming familiarity tours for travel writers, otherwise known as “Fam Tours.” For example, next month’s theme is “Girlfriend Getaway.”
“A lot of members have found us really valuable,” Cook said.
High Country Host serves members in five counties – Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Watauga and Wilkes. It has a new logo and plans to unveil its new website in a couple weeks.
With a new logo and a soon-to-be unveiled “completely responsive” website, High Country Host is undergoing a new branding, Cook said.
The logo on the current website will still be used, however the new logo for advertisements, Cook said, will be more recognizable to the general public.
The redesigned website launches in a couple weeks and is completely responsive to all devices, whether it’s a computer, a tablet or a smart phone. Cook said that with mobile technology growing, it just makes sense to have a mobile platform for travelers to check while sightseeing and traversing their way through the High Country.
Cook said statewide figures on tourism, particularly pertaining to lodging, that were presented at the annual meeting show that “tourism is growing again.”
“That’s what the research is showing,” Cook said. “We finally surpassed 2007 demand for lodging, and everyone kind of looks to those days before the recession and judges where we are now.”
Traditionally, folks took more elaborate vacations, but Cook said High Country Host is focusing on those key markets that are only a short drive away from the High Country.
Kent Tarbutton, owner of Chetola and outgoing High Country Host president, has been a member of High Country Host since he bought Chetola 16 years ago.
Before he moved to the High Country, Tarbutton was a president of hotel association in Virginia. While president of the hotel association, he was apart of group of leaders from campgrounds, hotels, airlines and other entities that came together to discuss regional tourism.
So when Harris Prevost, the vice president of Grandfather Mountain, came to see Tarbutton, on his arrival at Chetola, to discuss the opportunity to join High Country Host, Tarbutton jumped at the chance.
He noted the power of unity and collaboration – of High Country Host members pooling funds to advertise in high-dollar markets – is much stronger than any singular business.
“I love Chetola. It’s a gorgeous property and I would never put Chetola down, but it wouldn’t keep you there long. Grandfather Mountain, Tweetsie and the ziplining, if all of this wasn’t here, visitors wouldn’t stay long because there wouldn’t be anything to do,” Tarbutton said, adding that when one attraction isn’t in season, something else is.
High Country Host came to be in 1980 at the tail end of a recession when business leaders in the High Country collaborated to figure out a way to bring folks to the mountains.
Tarbutton, who added that another positive of High Country Host is it represents the five-county region without bias, said that he has remained a member of High Country Host for so long because it “does nothing but marketing.”
“Along the way, it changed and went into politics and is now honing back to marketing again,” Tarbutton said. “That’s why I stayed with them. I needed the marketing.”
Also presenting at the meeting was Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority. Check back later for the topic of his presentation.