This past week GRCVB staff members attended the 2024 Visit North Carolina Tourism Conference in Greenville, N.C. Each year, destination marketing organizations (DMOs), major attractions, their advertising agencies and other stakeholders from across the state gather to network professionally and hear the latest about our state tourism organization's (Visit North Carolina's) marketing initiatives and about tourism trends shared in educational breakout sessions.

We asked our team in attendance to summarize a favorite takeaway from the 2024 conference that might interest our Wake County hospitality and tourism partners.

Vice president of data, security and digital innovation Vimal Vyas, CDME:
"The conference focused on subjects of artificial intelligence (AI) and becoming a data hero for your destination. The aim was to empower attendees to utilize these concepts to have a positive impact on their respective destinations. For example, Adam Stoker's Relic Agency presentation suggests that DMOs should develop a specialized chatbot agent using ChatGPT for their websites and destinations. Since last November, we have implemented an AI conversational, branded response engine on our website in collaboration with Satisfi Labs. GRCVB has been at the forefront of using context Natural Language Processing with generative AI capabilities and large language models. This technology enables us to retain authority over our branded content to assist visitors/meeting attendees with pertinent destination information."

Director of public relations and international tourism Jessica Holt:
"With the ever-evolving media climate and new audiences and outlets emerging, keeping your finger on the pulse of changes in the media landscape is essential. At the Visit N.C. Tourism Conference, Development Counsellors International provided a thorough overview of the rise of Gen-Z journalists and freelancers, how they value and consume media and predictions for the future of travel coverage. Diverse voices and stories, immersive technology, authenticity and sustainable/ethical travel reporting will continue to grow in importance over the coming year and will be a necessary part of messaging to keep your brand or business relevant."

Design manager Amber Harmon:
"A strategic shift in focus from paid media to the value of owned media was highlighted throughout the conference. Focusing on audience-building through authentic storytelling and experiences encourages visitors to plan trips more frequently, stay additional days and enjoy more of what our destination has to offer."

Destination data manager Hailey Post:
"It was exciting to see both the growing interest and accessibility to data. DMOs of all sizes are embracing data collection, no matter the constraints. Passionate tourism professionals see the benefit of visitation data and reporting the economic impact of their destinations. It is always important to remember that the people within these organizations, with their creative and analytical minds and passion for communities and bringing visitors to our state, are invaluable to the success of tourism."

Public relations and international tourism manager Veronica Thring:
"Myself and my fellow public relations manager Dana Canby were given the opportunity to attend a deep-dive pitch workshop with travel writer Andrew Nelson. This workshop inspired participants to see their destinations from the eyes of a journalist and included practical steps they can take to uncover untold narratives. Destination public relations professionals were asked to craft and present a pitch that establishes a sense of place, paints a portrait with facts, statistics and senses, communicate excitement and relate to universal truths. We then presented our new pitches for real-time critiques and feedback from Nelson. Nelson's new National Geographic book, Here Not There: 100 Unexpected Travel Destinations, releases on April 2, and it is rumored that Raleigh will be featured as an alternative to another popular U.S. travel destination."

Content marketing manager Carly Delengowski, CGSP®:
"This year's Visit N.C. Tourism Conference left me rejuvenated and inspired, armed with fresh perspectives to enhance our marketing strategies. Keynote speakers and sessions covered a wide range of topics, including AI, personalized engagement and short-form video. I found Maggie Carpenter and Katie Bailey's insights on the effectiveness of 15-second videos and the enduring popularity of vertical format especially enlightening."

Social media coordinator Abigail Bekele:
"This was my first Visit N.C. Conference, and I enjoyed attending! I was able to expand my knowledge on social media, content planning and strategy with a focused lens on how to market specifically for a destination, which is still new to me. I met a lot of smart and wonderful people and got to pick their brains about working in social media within the tourism industry. The sessions I attended taught me a lot and I’m looking forward to taking what I learned and implementing it into the work I do here at GRCVB."

Destination data and technology manager Pablo Jasso:
"It is encouraging to observe the growing trend among organizations to leverage data for strategic decision-making and to demonstrate the benefit of tourism to their respective communities. This trend was notably exemplified by one of the speakers, Beth Heile, who, despite lacking readily available data, proactively acquired it through resourceful means, utilizing merely two cameras and a brief visitor survey. The subsequent insights gleaned from this initiative were remarkable, enabling informed decisions aimed at further enhancing visitor attraction efforts."

Marketing manager Andrew H. Baker, CGSP®
"With the decline of traditional retargeting efforts and a fast-approaching 'cookie-less' future, DMOs will need to shift from acquiring background data to foreground data, which relies on a user's consent and often is less consistent. It's exciting to see the industry making sure it stays ahead of the curve and work towards more reliable ways to track tourism advertising ROI."

All in all, the team had an insightful time in Greenville. GRCVB would like to thank Visit N.C., Visit Greenville-Pitt County and the City of Greenville for being great hosts. (Pictured below, left to right: Bekele, Harmon, Delengowski, Holt, Canby, Baker, Thring and Post.)

Visit NC Tourism Conference Team Photo (sorry Vimal)