GRCVB’s Annual Meeting went virtual this year on Wed., Aug. 26, 2020. A full recording of the live presentation is available here along with a copy of the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.

We’re including a few of the highlights in this blog post, although there is much more content in the hour-long presentation.

Tourism report 2019

From Dennis Edwards, GRCVB president and CEO...

Wake County tourism had its best year on record in 2019:

  • Wake County welcomed 17.9 million visitors, who generated a record $2.9 billion in direct spending, which produced $284 million in state and local tax revenue.
  • Tourism-related businesses in Wake County paid $77 million in local property taxes.
  • Tourism employed over 28,000 full-time employees in 2019 who earned a payroll of over $836 million.
  • Wake County hotels finished 2019 at an occupancy rate of 73.8% outperforming the state and national averages.
  • Interlocal tourism tax collections finished with record numbers for a total of $63.1 million. 

Denny also summarized:

  • accomplishments of the GRCVB team. That information can be found in the 2019-2020 Annual Report.
  • advancements on the Destination Strategic Plan (DSP) in 2019-2020. They can be found here.

AM Covid

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit the tourism and travel sector the earliest and the hardest, and Wake County was no exception. Again, from Denny:

  • According to an Aug. 12 report by U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics, the leisure and hospitality industry accounts for 40% of pandemic-related unemployment, and it is expected to extend into 2023.
  • With the short-term lockdown along with reopening in Phases 1 and 2, which includes limitations of mass gatherings at 25 outdoor and 10 indoor, we immediately experienced a number of cancellations.
  • To date we have had cancellations 235 cancellations of meetings, conventions and sporting events representing a direct economic impact of over $121.7 million:
    • Meeting and sporting events canceled: 235
    • Total room-nights lost: 205,017
    • Attendees impacted: 287,474
    • Direct economic impact: $121.7 million lost.

Denny's comments also included the impact of COVID-19 on RDU International Airport, more Wake County hospitality numbers and delays related to the DSP's implementation.AM Loren
 Loren J. Gold, executive vice president...

GRCVB immediately went into a response phase in early March and is now beginning to phase into a recovery position.

The GRCVB budget has been modified as follows:

  • FY 2019-2020 = $8.6M approved
  • $6.5M was spent through end of Feb. 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis
  • FY 2020-2021 = $6.5M approved

Our executive team took decisive action from financial, administrative and organizational perspectives and then began partner, community and advocacy outreach in early March related to the COVID-19 crisis.

  • A full list of these partners, advocacy allies and other organizations with which GRCVB is collaborating is provided in the presentation file.
  • Loren also reviewed materials and tactics from GRCVB's COVID response (March-June), samples of which are illustrated in the presentation.
  • Additional details for Raleigh area hospitality business partners can be found at

As mentioned, the comprehensive study known as OrganizationNEXT is guiding GRCVB staff from (1) response to (2) recovery to (3) resilience. The recovery step is centered on these three pillars:

  • Community building–Our community engagement strategy was initially rolled out in 2017 after we completed the DestinationNEXT organizational assessment program. Deeper communication and engagement with the private sector and economic development community was the call to action. The DSP was then completed in FY 2019. Year-one DSP implementation was in FY 2020 and was extremely successful. We are now excited to continue rollout of the next community initiative called Tourism U. In short, this is a learning track for tourism and destination education for local residents, workers and leaders in Raleigh and Wake County. Please take a few minutes to explore further at
  • Organizational sustainability–Just this past week we have finalized an agreement with Wake County to receive $1.2M in CARES Act money from the federal government to implement a destination recovery campaign. We would like to sincerely thank Chairman Greg Ford, Vice Chair Vicki Adamson, all the County Commissioners, county manager David Ellis, assistant county manager Denise Foreman and many others on the County staff for their guidance, leadership and belief that tourism matters. Additional advertising co-op programs are being discussed with the State of N.C. and Visit N.C. for the GRCVB, and finally, through tireless work being done by Destinations International and U.S. Travel, GRCVB is reviewing its qualifications and application options related to Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP) via the federal government.
  • Customer engagement–One of GRCVB’s and our community’s biggest initiatives moving into recovery is a focus on our valued community and visitors to it.

AM Jonathan

From Jonathan Freeze, CDME, director of marketing and communications...

To guide our COVID-related engagement with the destination's customers, we have used secondary research and situational analysis to reevaluate our key target markets and to determine the best messaging and message timing to communicate clearly and deliver the right tone around more consumer confidence, health and safety in resuming travel. To give just two examples:

  • 50% of past visitation to Raleigh has come from day-trippers, so we’re well-positioned to see that return first from a radius of 90 or 100 miles around the county. Most overnight visitation also has been from families or solo travelers, arriving by car and coming from in-state, and those audiences will be the first to convert to repeat visits, if we can reach them now, with the right message points.
  • Several of what we call visitation pillars—our festivals, live music scene and spectator sports—are not currently available, so we’ll need to rely upon other, tried-and-true tenets of the destination brand to round out the reasons to visit in the months ahead, while rebuilding—such as outdoor recreation, shopping at our unique small businesses or visiting our museums, which will reopen in the Governor’s Phase 3.

Content marketing–The Bureau’s content marketing and public relations efforts since May have already laid the groundwork for recovery messaging. We have supported local businesses by encouraging visitors to make online purchases and attend the businesses’ virtual events and activities they offer; we’ve promoted social distance-friendly outdoor activities and the exploration of Wake County’s parks and greenways; and we’ve given up-to-date information on what is currently open, including or restaurants’ curbside and takeout offerings.

Count On Me NC–This statewide initiative is a blessing to the entire travel and tourism sector as we head into recovery. Potential visitors need to know that restaurants, hotels, attractions and other businesses are reopening safely and are committed to protecting their guests. They need to know there’s a trustworthy standard. It’s easy to append Count On Me NC to an individual business’s marketing effort… and easy to append it to the CVB’s efforts. Our Visitor Services and Convention Sales and Services staffs are certified, and we highly encourage others to participate so that they can be included in the CVB’s marketing pushes the rest of the year.

Recovery messaging theme for Raleigh/Wake County–One of the things that we spent a lot of time exploring, internally and with resource groups and alliances, was: what theme could unite and tie together all of the various content pieces, ads, tweets and marketing materials that we’ll produce countywide for the rest of 2020, in support of tourism recovery. WISH YOU WERE HERE is the theme that we’re applying.

I believe our hospitality workers and business owners genuinely have missed their interactions with Wake County’s visitors the past few months, and the creative materials we’re producing in support of a messaging campaign point this out and call to customers’ attention the opportunities to engage with the destination’s brand, while addressing visitor health and safety. We initially launched this campaign theme last week on the visitRaleigh-brand social media accounts.

We also believe that, if many of our partners participate both in Count On Me NC and with the #WishYouWereHere hashtag, it will send a meta-message to clients and stakeholders of all kinds… that Raleigh and surrounding towns comprise a hospitality community of collaboration and cooperation.

Stimulus investment–The CARES Act funding above is also allowing GRCVB staff to finish three other projects to ensure we’re ready for tourism’s return:

Paid advertising/promotion–We will mount a multichannel, multi-month paid campaign, utilizing WISH YOU WERE HERE, across all vertical markets—leisure visitation, conventions, sports and even visiting-friends-and-relatives. We look forward to reinforcing, gradually, how Wake County is ready to welcome visitors again—as long as both our county and our visitors are making a mutual pledge for health and safety—and we’re looking forward to generating new business and bookings again for our area hotels and restaurants, and eventually our museums, other attractions and event facilities.