Ashe County Chamber of Commerce unveiled to commissioners its year-long effort to craft a comprehensive marketing plan for the county Monday afternoon, and outlined strategies to attract more outside visitors to “Ashe County - The coolest corner of North Carolina.”
“We’ve spent months working on this,” said Ashe County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Development Subcommittee Member Barb Johnson. “Over 200 pages of research, meetings, a discovery trip to Morganton, meetings with North Carolina tourism representatives has been condensed down to about five or six slides. There’s a wealth of research.”
Johnson told commissioners that tourism related entities in Ashe County include the New River and New River State Park, River House and Shatley Springs, wineries, Florence Thomas Art School, the historic towns of Jefferson, Lansing, Todd and West Jefferson, as well as outdoor activities like horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, fishing, and tubing.
The full chamber marketing plan with the entire list of tourism related entities is available for download at jeffersonpost.com
There are more than 200 rooms available for lodging in Ashe County, four campgrounds, more than 175 cabins, more than 30 restaurants, and more than 50 shops including those devoted to antiques, clothing, books, gifts, and specialty foods, according to Johnson.
The chamber also compiled demographic information on people most likely to visit Ashe County.
“People that come to Ashe County are generally between the ages of 35 and 64,” said Johnson. “Their average household income ranges between $50,000 and $100,000. They’re generally college educated, and they’re white. They live in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, or Virginia, and there is a little over two people in the party when they come here (2.2), and generally a female made the decision to come here.”
Johnson said most visitors come only for a day trip, but said two or three day weekend trips are also common.
“And what do we do with this information?” asked President of Caddell Communications Susan Caddell. “What’s our best shot?”
Ashe County’s tourism marketing message should be centered around enjoyment of the outdoors and participation in outdoor experiences, according to Caddell.
“What we have that is not available in many places where the tourists are coming from are the great outdoors, experiences that we have that are unique to this area that don’t happen in Charlotte or the Research Triangle,” said Caddell.
Caddell also said a focus on the arts, both indoor and outdoor, and a special emphasis on developing and implementing a grander extended celebration of Christmas, should also be viewed as key ways to market Ashe County.
“We certainly have a wonderful arts program, and we could weave that into everything that we do,” said Caddell.
A website, dedicated solely to visitors, is an important first step, and starting conversations with visitors, and potential visitors, through social media channels could also be valuable, according to Caddell.
“Right now, visitor information is provided through the chamber,” said Caddell. “There’s information available at the chamber website that is not available to visitors to the county; it’s for businesses that are here. We want to do something dedicated to visitors so that they can easily find things to do, when it’s going to happen, where to stay, and eat. All of those things.”
Caddell said working with, “outdoor venues and outfitters to expand current offerings and create new opportunities for people to engage in the outdoors, convening and creating a support group to explore the creation of a more comprehensive Christmas celebration, and developing a “sense of community and cooperation,” to engage the local residents and business owners in the tourism marketing process are valuable marketing strategies.
Caddell said any marketing efforts should focus on Ashe County’s, “seasons of greatest opportunity,” the summer, fall, and November and December.
“We would want to make the most of those opportunities first,” said Caddell.
A one-and-a-half or two-hour training session for any people in the county involved in tourism built around the “customer experience,” should also be developed.
“We should help everyone who is in a position to talk to or meet with visitors to understand that their role is key,” said Caddell. “It might be the person who is at the front desk of a hotel, or the waiter or waitress at the restaurant. We would provide some training for those people that, when all is said and done, they have the opportunity to provide either a moment of magic or a moment of misery for people coming to Ashe County. ‘Where’s the place to stay?’ or ‘What’s going on in town tonight?’- ‘I don’t know,’ is not going to be an acceptable answer. Their roles are key roles.”
Caddell also recommended the hiring of a full-time person to be responsible for Ashe County’s tourism marketing efforts. It would be that individual’s responsibility to identify, calendar, and gather information on all current events planned or held in the county of interest to tourists.
The chamber’s new positioning statement was also rolled out during Monday’s presentation. Currently displayed on a digital billboard in Charlotte, the image shows an Ashe County family enjoying a tubing trip on the New River highlighted with “Catch your breath.” Also included in the billboard is the address for visitashecountync.com, which currently redirects to the chamber’s website, and “Ashe County - The coolest corner of North Carolina.”
Monday’s marketing plan follows a presentation last fall by Chairman of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Kelley St. Germain, who told commissioners that tourism had a significant impact on Ashe County in 2010. Tourist spending reached nearly $43 million that year alone, a figure that has steadily grown since 1991, when tourism spending was just $14.29 million. That $28.7 million increase over two decades represents a 200 percent growth in tourism spending since 1991.
The average daily spending by tourists in Ashe County was $117,781 per day in 2010 ($42.99 million/365), and St. Germain also said tourism spending in Ashe County generated paychecks worth $17,123 each day, state taxes worth $6,575 each day, and Ashe County taxes worth $6,740 each day.