Each year since revamping its community engagement strategies officially in 2018, GRCVB has arranged its communications with local community stakeholders around annual themes of import, and this year is no different.

In calendar years 2019 and 2020, Bureau staff created and implemented a multilevel training program for stakeholders called Tourism U, which had great success connecting with key local audiences—albeit virtually due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Now that program is being reevaluated and improved (thanks to research findings from N.C. State’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management), with an updated Tourism U 100 Level to roll out soon (Tourism U 200 is also available).

The pandemic itself has reinforced the value of stronger connections between the Bureau and local stakeholders beyond our traditional hospitality business partners and Raleigh/Wake County economic development colleagues—stakeholders such as town chamber/municipal leaders and managers, corporate leaders outside of the hospitality industries and area residents overall. Impacts from the pandemic, too, are present in the Bureau’s new communication themes:

Destination Resilience Follows Recovery 

Our destination’s recovery from COVID-19 losses will be gradual and multiyear, and work to achieve long-term resilience continues, including support for the additional phases of our community’s rebuild (retaining our genuine quality of place) and the sustainability of the Bureau as an integral organization.

This theme stresses that economic recovery for the area’s hospitality/tourism sector is still ongoing, and we (the community and GRCVB) cannot stop working differently than usual until we achieve a state of resilience and financial security beyond where things stood in Feb. 2020. While other sectors will recover rapidly with stimulus investments (or already have seen gains above their pre-pandemic revenues), economists predict, and data already indicate, for tourism a long road to regain true resilience; this is the K-shaped economic recovery seen in some analyses. As GRCVB’s vision is to be the prime visitor advocate and regional leader of destination marketing and product development here, the Bureau is integral to future phases of support for our troubled visitor sector.

Attracting visitors is economic development

The Value of Tourism

Local audiences should understand that attracting more visitor and convention business to the area (GRCVB’s mission) is economic development. Stimulating outside customer demand for local businesses regrows sales of products/services and sustains livelihoods for locals both inside the hospitality industries and in other supporting industries.

All area economic development and municipal leaders can agree post-pandemic that retaining viable, consumer-facing businesses in Wake County is a priority; it will sustain residents’ livelihoods, especially in a hospitality/tourism sector that relies on face-to-face delivery of goods/services to customers along its road to resilience. Some 21% of area food-service employment, 41% of recreation/entertainment industry employment and 100% of hotel employment pre-pandemic (22,542 local jobs) traced to Wake County visitor arrivals, as did another 5,503 direct hospitality-sector jobs. Wake County visitation/visitor spending pre-pandemic ($2.9 billion in 2019) also funded the salaries of 10,986 more local jobs in adjacent industries (e.g., finance, health care) and, in 2019, generated another $1.5 billion in sales for these other industries locally (the indirect/induced impacts of area visitation). Restimulating our visitor demand should happen as safely but as quickly as possible.

Destination 2028

Implementation of the Destination Strategic Plan (DSP) has been retooled post-COVID, but the DSP remains the destination’s best framework for achieving resilience while enhancing customer engagement. Recommitment to the DSP can shore up at-risk aspects of quality of place, strengthening other forms of economic development in Wake County.

GRCVB had spearheaded year-one implementation of Wake County’s DSP starting in July 2019 and now has reprioritized/retooled its project implementation for year two (through June 2021), taking new COVID realities into account. The well-researched, 10-year plan remains our best future framework, however, for increasing visitor demand/enhancing customers’ engagement with the destination brand to 21.7 million person-stays annually; the DSP outlines tourism-related economic development work in Quality of Place and across seven other priorities needing stakeholders’ support.

Much talent was attracted to our area from across the nation in recent years based on the diversity of small and independently owned enterprises here, run by savvy entrepreneurs who have created “shop local” products and new experiences found nowhere else; this collectively represents our charmed quality of life, our destination brand and a core amenity/selling point of our region. For all the reasoning above, this quality of place is now at-risk, the short-term satisfaction of newcomers/visitors is at-risk, and the long-term reputation of the region is at-risk if we do not focus on the survival of creative small businesses and startups.

Beyond use in our communication planning, the 2021 themes also can be used as talking points by GRCVB’s staff, our board members, economic development allies and the area’s hospitality business partners when engaging the community at-large this year. Stay tuned to the Tourism Talk blog for more progress reports on community outreach and countywide DSP implementation.