Like it did with virtually everything else, the pandemic affected implementation of the 10-year Destination Strategic Plan (DSP) we launched in 2018. Some of the eight priorities in the DSP had to be shuffled in 2020, some received different levels of focus this fiscal year than originally expected, but we anticipate our work staying on-track overall moving out of year-three and the pandemic.

Part of Destination 2028 is about creation and curation of "signature experiences" around Wake County. That work has continued, and here Jonathan Freeze, CDME, GRCVB's director of marketing and communications, bring us up to date.

We have posted in the Tourism Talk blog before about GRCVB’s support for more people-first signature experiences to be developed throughout the county. What’s the latest on that?
Wake County’s DSP did call for us to develop a greater experiential environment here, stating it would be a tourism differentiator for the county and would help us grow more leisure visitor arrivals to reach goal.

I have been spearheading this product development effort for GRCVB in conjunction with the local company People-First Tourism (P1t) Inc. since even before the DSP was finalized, and we’ve been making great progress recently, especially as the pandemic’s effects on tourism started to wane.

We have 20 experiences available anytime to be booked again by visitors (and they are being booked)! Outside of Raleigh proper, there are offerings in Wake Forest, Apex and Zebulon. More date-specific P1t offerings started happening last week and will recur regularly the rest of 2022.

People First quote

Are there chances for visitors beyond individuals/families to enjoy these hands-on experiences as well?
Yes, in addition to promoting the signature experiences hosted by microentrepreneurs to potential leisure visitors, GRCVB also has started to promote the experience options to convention and sports groups arriving this year (this involves communicating with the planners of these events as our staffers provide them with other services), and even our Convention Sales team is able to share this aspect of our very people-centric brand with prospective event planners they meet while on the road promoting the Raleigh area. 

The Sales Department has long shared stories with planners about our local makers and celebrity chefs, creators etc., but this is another type of passionate mind whom we can be proud of having in our area and whose expertise/talent and time are directly bookable by convention groups when they arrive and are looking for truly authentic or unforgettable things to do in their off time.

How unique is this “from the ground up,” grassroots approach to developing new guided experiences within a tourism destination?
Certainly product development overall has been an approach used by some CVBs for years, though often those CVBs were working on attracting new “attractions” or building more facilities as products. Of course, guided tours have been a thing for millennia, and many destinations have well-established companies or branches of large companies that run them and a CVB simply promotes those. (We do have companies here in Raleigh.) 

Cultivating and curating individual-person-led experiences as a tourism product is an international trend in destination management and on Internet marketplaces like Airbnb Experiences, but it’s not yet very common throughout the U.S. or in the urban South for a CVB to do this. (Some of these experience hosts never imagined themselves to be workers “within tourism,” so they learn about the tourism market as an extension of their resident market perhaps but decide to try it—and hopefully they feel fulfilled by their experience with our visitors in return. It is a shared exchange of value.)

With our approach being rather unique still, could this result in yet another accolade for Raleigh/Wake County?
It could, and it doesn’t hinge just on our success by the year 2028. Just in the last six months of 2021, I’ve had three opportunities* to tell the story of our stewarding this project for Wake County to global audiences:

  • In July, two professors specializing in tourism microentrepreneurship research (including N.C. State’s Dr. Duarte Morais) and I presented a 45-minute session about our approach at the Destinations International Annual Convention (our global CVB association’s biggest event).
  • In September, Dr. Morais’s new academic textbook entitled Tourism Microentrepreneurship hit bookstores or the Amazon Kindle Store, and I had contributed a chapter to the book explaining our program/strategy through 2028 and sharing the implications for other CVBs that may want to pursue this kind of product development or for researchers who may want to study it further.
  • In December, I participated as a destination panelist in a two-hour session of the Smart Community Tourism webinar series (alongside one of our Raleigh experience hosts, Annelies Gentile, as well as Airbnb/other global marketplace reps and the tourism professors) again highlighting how what we’re doing is special and makes Wake County tourism more sustainable.

As I’d talked about in my last Tourism Talk blog post, the destination management business is evolving to be more community values-based. While the signature experiences plan was strategized to make us more competitive and profitable with leisure visitors long-term, to me it is also a form of stewardship, in that it’s a form of tourism that’s good “people policy” and whose economic benefits will stay more localized. And that makes me proud too.


Morais textbook*Editor's Note: We appreciate Jonathan's modesty, but he, along with Dr. Duarte Morais and other like minds around the world, are creating a whole new chapter in destination management. He casually mentions that he has been presenting this program internationally and contributed a chapter to Dr. Morais's book for use in colleges and universities.

You know that expression "he wrote the textbook"? ... Our own Jonathan along with Dr. Morais/others are literally writing the textbook for people-first tourism (also known as permatourism). We couldn't be more proud of him and research being done by the P1tLab, and we're so looking forward to watching the tourism microentrepreneurship movement further take shape here.


Photos by Garrett Poulos