Experts offer tips to lure travelers to state
The Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute Small Business Center, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce and Boone Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event at Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock.
Eleanor Talley, industry relations manager for the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, said that international visitors represent a small but growing portion of the state’s tourists; about 2 million of the 43 million annual visitors come to North Carolina from other countries, she said.
Panelists urged businesses, attractions and communities to take steps to be “visitor ready” and to make travel as easy as possible for visitors. Dana Clark, chairman of Appalachian State University’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Department, noted that in France, many establishments publish signage in five or six languages.
Above all, surveys have indicated that international visitors seek places that are friendly and accommodating, Clark said. High-speed internet and cell phone coverage are also important, said Alex Naar, director of community and business outreach for the East Carolina University Center for Sustainable Tourism.
Terence Milstead, assistant professor of geography and planning at ASU who travels frequently, said that connectivity factors highly in his destination choices. People want to be able to get in and out of cities without driving, he said.
Panelists also discussed a number of actions tourism-driven businesses and communities can take to become more resilient. Milstead noted the popularity of hostels and Airbnb (rooms rented from homeowners) among young travelers, suggesting that the High Country could provide more affordable lodging options.
Young people who visit and stay in cheaper accommodations could return 10 years later and stay in the area’s higher-end hotels, he said.
But Talley noted that one challenge with such facilities is that they often do not pay occupancy taxes to contribute to local marketing efforts.
Green travel is becoming more and more important for tourist destinations, panelists said. Naar said that sustainable practices are evolving from features for which tourists are willing to pay more money into practices that are expected.
Naar also suggested that establishments diversify their activities and take actions to adapt to changing weather patterns. For example, he said, winter resorts should develop alternative activities for periods of mild weather, and river outfitters can utilize low-flow boats during droughts.
Cortina Caldwell, founder of Visit & Venture, facilitated the panel discussion.
For more information about Small Business Center events, visit http://www.cccti.edu/smallbusiness.