Post-COVID Travel Boom Visits Rural America Initiative targets economic development in 16 counties
Visit North Carolina has launched Dream Big in Small Town NC, an initiative to boost economic recovery by attracting travelers and potential workforce to small towns in 16 counties facing population loss. Starting with a sweepstakes promotion and a satellite media tour in Haywood County, the campaign showcases natural beauty and small-town charm in places with special challenges resulting from the pandemic.
A video accompanying this announcement is available at: https://youtu.be/xcNldQZAVdk
Created by the General Assembly as the Rural Tourism Recovery Pilot Program, Dream Big capitalizes on travelers’ interest in exploring small towns by drawing attention to the people, places and businesses in three distinct regions designated as the Scenic Mountains, the Northeast Lakes & Rivers, and the Inner Banks. As a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Visit NC is coordinating the program with the N.C. Department of Commerce and other private and public entities involved in growing the state’s first-in-talent workforce.
“Dream Big is a natural extension of Visit NC’s economic development role as the state’s tourism marketing organization,” said Wit Tuttell, Visit NC’s executive director. “Our efforts center on showcasing local landmarks, memorable experiences, distinctive lodging, dining and shopping with the goal of an economic infusion from visitor spending. Dream Big takes the mission further by calling attention to the allure of living and working in charismatic places whose appeal is rooted in character and authenticity.”
Funded with $1.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the pilot program designates Graham, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties in the Scenic Mountains; Edgecombe, Halifax, Vance and Warren in the Northeast Lakes & Rivers; and Chowan, Gates, Hertford, Martin, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington in the Inner Banks. Dream Big also has a dedicated presence on VisitNC.com, complete with links for job postings, as well as program partner Airbnb’s website.
The Scenic Mountains is the first region to take the spotlight. During the satellite tour in Waynesville, representatives from national, regional and in-state media outlets joined the virtual tour and Q&A session. The launch also features a sweepstakes with a prize package that includes:
- A $1,000 Airbnb stay voucher to experience Small Town NC life.
- A $500 VISA gift card to help with travel expenses by plane, train or automobile
- A choice of gift cards for dining, recreation and shopping in the Scenic Mountain destinations.
Similar promotions and satellite media tours are planned for the program’s launch in Northeast Lakes & Rivers this summer and in the Inner Banks in the fall.
According to a recent report from Destination Analysts, 28.4 percent of people surveyed plan to visit small towns or rural attractions this travel season. Increased demand is reflected in the doubling of short-term rentals available outside of North Carolina’s urban counties since the pandemic began. For 2021, Airbnb reports a 128 percent increase in nights booked in rural areas compared with 2019. For the same period, nights booked for rural stays of more than four weeks grew 160 percent, which supports Dream Big’s promise to engage visitors for more than a getaway.
Tuttell also noted findings from a poll by booking.com that 58 percent of travelers said it’s important for their trip be beneficial to the destination's local community. Twenty-nine percent said they would research how their tourism spending would affect or improve local communities.
Beyond exposure from the satellite tour, Dream Big will reach the traveling public through a presence on VisitNC.com and posts on @VisitNC’s social media channels. A media influencer campaign will bring selected tastemakers to the destinations to engage their followers in the local culture and lifestyle appeal for people interested in a change of scenery. Airbnb, which will also promote the campaign on its website and social media channels, will use its inventory of short-term rental properties to host the media visits.
About Visit North Carolina:
Visit North Carolina is part of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Established in 2014, the EDPNC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that oversees the state's efforts in business and job recruitment and retention, international trade, and tourism, film and sports development. The mission of Visit North Carolina is to unify and lead the state in developing North Carolina as a major destination for leisure travel, group tours, meetings and conventions, sports events and film production. For more information on North Carolina’s destinations and travel assets, go to VisitNC.com.