Bringing Tourism Back


By Laurie Paolicelli

Like spring itself, the world feels like it’s rising again, about to bloom in the coming summer sun. In this new and brighter light we have an opportunity to see what’s changed and how we can do what we did before in new and better ways, in a way that serves ourselves and our community. That’s what we’re doing at The Chapel Hill and Orange County’s Visitors Bureau: looking inward to look out.

And what we see is James Taylor.

But first, a question you may be asking: What is a Visitors Bureau?

Simply put, the fundamental mission of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau is the promotion of visitor and business travel, which in turn generates overnight lodging for Orange County. Overnight lodging equates to a big economy here because when people visit, they spend money all over town. We all know we tend to spend more money while having fun.

What we do: advertising, distribution of promotional and collateral material, direct sales to meeting planners and decision makers, hosting industry travel writers to experience this destination so they write about us, bring their event here, book their convention in our hotels. It’s a lot, and the whole operation is funded through a lodging tax – in other words, by the people who come to visit. Visitors, aka tourists.

Though we’re here for the entire county, there are a lot of Orange Counties out there, Florida and California among them, and that creates confusion with potential visitors. You want your visitors to know where they’re going. That’s why we’re the Chapel Hill and Orange County Visitors Bureau. People know Chapel Hill and identify with it. They know where we are.

But we celebrate the entirety of Orange County, including Carrboro and Hillsborough in our messaging and supporting Carrboro and Hillsborough in their own efforts to build their own brand and identity.

Visitors to the Chapel Hill/Orange County area want and expect an experience that’s edgy, progressive, liberal; warm walkable days and nights; a sense of history; restaurants and chefs that are unique; live music, art, and creativity.

Businesses and convention-goers want to be housed under one hotel; fun after the meeting; enough square footage to have their sessions in one ballroom – and everything else!

Luckily, Chapel Hill and Orange County have it all. Our goal is to let everyone know about it, and that’s about articulating to the world who we are through tourism marketing. Our campaigns help define who we are as a destination.

How does the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau market the community?

Through Bill Smith, for example. And Vimala. Through our murals, arts and culture and our outdoor puppet shows and an ethos that welcomes ALL.

Take a look:

Examples of tourism ads that have run in Our State magazine, Garden and Gun, and Southern Living. Contributed photo.

As the population of Orange County changes, so does the visitor and the visitor sector. Example, more visiting friends and family do not have connections to UNC. More tech, E-sports, medical, entrepreneurial visitors and conferences are being held in Chapel Hill. There’s more interest in LGBTQ travel.

Our State Magazine Editor Elizabeth Hudson, left, and Publisher Bernie Mann, right are often the guests of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau. Pictured here with Hillsborough resident Allan Gurganus. Contributed photo.

There’s an axiom in tourism marketing that states: “Why spend one dollar to reach a customer when you can spend one dollar to reach a media firm’s tens of thousands of customers?”

So we spend dollars hosting editors from Our State, Garden and Gun, Travel and Leisure, WIRED magazine, New York Times, Business Travel News, the Guardian, and more.

We let their editors tell our story and reach their tens of thousands of readers and listeners.

There’s a lot that hasn’t changed. We still need to work to encourage visitors to the Triangle to stay here instead of, say, Durham.

But there has been a major shift.

Visitors want a three-dimensional look and experience and personal, one-on-one advice. We’ve taken care of that.

Later in fall, the Visitors Bureau will move to 308 W. Franklin Street. This is the site of the former Cholonad location and (for those of you who have been around awhile) the Trail Shop.

And here, finally, is where you can see James Taylor.

Yes, James Taylor has agreed to produce a live singalong wall and video with his full band of “Carolina In the My Mind,” encouraging visitors to sing along. And James will record a special welcome video as well. The Visitors Bureau is not just keeping up with the times: it is ahead of its time.

James Taylor. Contributed photo.

Over the past 16 months the world and everyone in it has endured previously unimaginable changes. The Chapel Hill and Orange County’s Visitors Bureau has changed as well, and at the same time is well-positioned to understand that change. We look inward to look outward and can see quite clearly that in spite of everything one thing hasn’t changed: we still live in one of the best spots on the Planet Earth. Forgive us while we share the news.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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