by Madison V. Fisler
March 6, 2014. The North Carolina Governor’s Conference on tourism, the state’s premier travel industry event, was held March 2-4 at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte.
Boasting record attendance this year, more than 500 participants came from all over the state, including professionals in destination marketing organizations, hotels, attractions, tourism development authorities, vacation rental companies, retail outlets, restaurants and more. Many participants from the High Country made their way to Charlotte for the conference to meet up with industry leaders, organizers and tourism merchants throughout the rest of North Carolina.
“The conference is a great networking and learning experience that gives us the opportunity to meet with the tourism officials at the state level and find out what programs they have come up with and what they are thinking in terms of media plans and website development along with many other topics,” said Tracy Brown, Executive Director of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority.
“It’s all about working together with other organizations to try to bring more people to North Carolina.”
Attendees to the conference were afforded opportunities to network and engage with industry leaders, hear from nationally recognized keynote and breakout speakers, make new contacts for your business or community and discover the newest trends in hospitality and travel marketing.
“It gives us the opportunity to see what research that the state has engaged in so we can better understand the state’s brand and where the state is headed,” Brown said. “There are a lot of things going on in different areas of the state that one region won’t know about, so when we get to this conference we are able to bring everyone up to speed.”
L. Wright Tilley, Executive Director of the Watauga Country Tourism Development Authority also attended the conference.
“The good thing about the conference is that there are so many things tailored to different topics of discussion,” Tilley said.
“There were lots of research topics available, and everyone was interested in the potential public/private direction that we may be headed in. Up until now, the division of tourism has been run by the state and funded with state tax dollars. They are talking about moving toward a model where it is a combination of public tax dollars and private business, like Visit Florida and Visit California is run now. Those of us in tourism don’t yet have enough information to know whether or not this will be beneficial. It could potentially isolate some of western North Carolina and the coast if it is based on larger state business models, and it could be more heavily centered on larger destinations in the state.”
After attending his sixth conference this year, Tilley was delighted with the networking opportunities that the conference provided.
“It is one of the few times a year that all of the TDAs and visitor’s bureaus get together,” Tilley said. “So it is an opportunity for all of us to network and share ideas, ask questions, share frustrations and talk about things that have worked in other places.”
Brown echoed Tilley’s optimism after his 20th conference.
“One of the things I took away is that we’ve got a governor that understands tourism and is interested and engaged with the industry,” Brown said.
“He announced that he was asking for $1 million more for the tourism budget and we haven’t seen that in a long time. We also have a very engaged and excited Secretary of Commerce in Sharon Decker and she is committed to doing what she can to elevate our presence in the southeastern U.S. to bring more people up to North Carolina.
Keynote speakers at the event included Roger Brooks, CEO of Roger Brooks International and bestselling author Charles Frazier.
And while the conference is great for veterans of the industry, it proves to be a great resource for newcomers as well.
“There are folks in this business that I have worked with for 20 plus years and you see that with a lot of folks here,” Brown said.
“But you area also meeting new folks coming into the business and you are able to bring along the ‘freshmen’ if you will, to the conference and introduce them to people that you know. It’s really a great thing for everyone.”
Check out some photos from the conference below.