With peak tourism season soon to start, the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted hospitality partners for a Wednesday morning event designed to reinvigorate the industry and announce new initiatives to improve visitors’ experiences.
Held during National Travel and Tourism Week, observed each year during the first full week in May, the annual Travel Rally breakfast kicked off with updates from Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, about tourism’s local economic impact.
In 2021, visitors spent roughly $930 million in New Hanover County, Hufham said, citing figures released last summer by Visit North Carolina
. Numbers are still being crunched for the 2022 calendar year, but Hufham said the visitors bureau is hopeful that the 2022 amount will hit $1 billion based on preliminary statewide data. Yesterday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that travelers to North Carolina spent more than $33 billion
on visits to the state in 2022.
Additionally, Hufham shared that room occupancy tax collections for the 2022-23 fiscal year are currently up 6.97% from the previous fiscal year, when the county collected a best-ever total of $22.6 million in room occupancy taxes.
“We’re still growing, and you’ve got to remember, we’re growing over record numbers that we had in the previous year,” Hufham said.
As the area gears up to welcome travelers for the busy summer season, the visitors bureau is preparing to roll out two new initiatives that Hufham described as “tools that can be used to enhance the visitor experience and provide excellent customer service."
One is a Mobile Trip Guide, expected to debut the week before Memorial Day weekend. Currently, the visitors bureau produces a printed visitor’s guide with nearly 100 pages of information about places to stay, eat, visit and play in Wilmington, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. The new Mobile Trip Guide will provide these resources digitally through a web-based platform that uses location services to customize recommendations for visitors, shared Sydney Callis, director of marketing and content for the visitors bureau.
“Visitors will be able to pull it up on their mobile device and easily find lodging, attractions, restaurants, events, shops and more, all near them in Wilmington and our island beaches,” Callis said. The need for this kind of updated functionality emerged from research and strategic planning recently undertaken by the organization, Callis noted.
The guide is not an app, and thus will not require users to download anything. Once it goes live later this month, visitors can access it using a QR code that will be posted on placards and table tents distributed to local hotels and attractions. Within the interface, they can explore options to stay, play, dine and shop and peruse events happening near them. Users can easily share the resources with others via social media, email or text message, or add them to an itinerary they can create within the online trip guide.
Before the guide goes live, the visitors bureau will hold a webinar for industry partners to help them understand the resource.
Around the same time, the visitors bureau will debut a new online Tourism Ambassador training program designed to improve destination knowledge and customer service in visitor-facing roles across the industry.
In the wake of the pandemic’s disruptions to the hospitality workforce, Hufham noted that many current employees at area hotels, restaurants and attractions are newcomers who might not have a full understanding of the county’s unique amenities to share with visitors.
“There are a lot of new faces in our industry, many of whom have never worked in the hospitality industry and many who moved to New Hanover County from outside our area,” Hufham said.
The free Tourism Ambassador online training includes four modules that take less than three hours to complete, Hufham noted. The modules educate participants about tourism in New Hanover County, unique offerings in Wilmington and its three beach communities, how to use visitors bureau tools (including the new Mobile Trip Guide) to connect travelers to amenities and activities, and tips on meaningfully communicating with visitors.