Dear Tourists: We Have Missed You

Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Forest Theater, UNC-Chapel Hill


By Laurie Paolicelli

Dear Tourists,

We have missed you. From the energy you bring to our streets, to the sound of the applause greeting a local performance of music, dance or sport – we miss you. We miss your laughter, and hearing your sighs of contentment following one of the best meals you may have ever eaten. Temporary visitors, you bring a lot to our lives.

You are always welcome here. Your presence reminds us of what a truly great place this is, for us and for you. A tourist is like an old friend who makes a long trip just to say hello.

We love it that you appreciate our pines and poplars, pink and white dogwoods, and the generations-old towering trees that shade us year-round. The concerts at the Cat’s Cradle, the giant puppets in the Forest Theater. The legacy of art, sport, music. James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind’ is about his memories of growing up in Chapel Hill.

Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC

At the classic Chapel Hill intersection of Cameron and Columbus streets, we long to see families and students side-by-side walking past the celebrated Carolina Inn, its front porch jamming with music, icy refreshments, and kids big and small dancing on the lawn.

We miss our tree-lined sidewalks filled with runners, joggers, bicyclists and strollers, through our centuries-old campus and into Carrboro, our fun and funky sister town. And farther down the road, historic Hillsborough, a town with a river and a Riverwalk in the middle of it, much of the town and its homes on the National Register of Historic Places.

And yes, it’s true: we love the economy you help sustain in our communities. Our restaurants, shops, and art and science galleries see nearly 2 million of you each year; your visit helps maintain jobs and sales taxes, and our livelihood. That’s another reason we love to watch our hotel facilities overflow with conferences that bring some of the leading scholars, medical researchers, and alumni reunions back to town each month.

We share a history. We share memories. Rathskellar, PyeWacket, Hot Diggity Days, Flower Ladies, and Colonial Inn Hillsborough. Charles Kuralt, Dean Smith, Michael Jordan, and even the late and infamous Jesse Helms. We know each other better through what we know of each other. Memories are the breadcrumbs we follow to find each other.

But there’s something else — something not quite as quantifiable – that you bring with you when you come. An electricity, a sense of discovery, excitement. You make us feel young. And that’s nice.

But even bad times we’ve shared have helped shape us into the communities we are today. Thanks for your letters, protests, the public voices that remind us how important it is to examine the decisions of our past.

Without the hardship, we wouldn’t have grown, same as you. We love that our visitors let us grow with them.

Annual Black Alumni Reunion Conference in Chapel Hill, NC

I hope we spend more together in the future, too. But for now we understand that safety, flattening the curve, and investing in a brighter and healthier tomorrow takes priority.

Only visit when you feel safe and healthy, when it’s right, and when we can help you grow and flourish in the Southern Part of Heaven.

Keep an eye on our website for future openings we are able to phase in under the leadership of the great state of North Carolina and remember, it’s always a good day to be a Tar Heel.

Tourism Resources:

Affectionately yours,

The tourism staff at the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau

Wearing face coverings in public is required in North Carolina.

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

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