Travel And Tour World: First of all congratulations Mr Tuttell for being selected as director of North Carolina. How are you feeling after joining here and what are the challenges you have faced earlier?
Wit Tuttell:(Note: Just to make sure it’s clear, the selection in question is 2022’s State Tourism Director of the Year from the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Tourism Directors.)
Certainly I feel honoured and also humbled. It’s especially gratifying that the recognition comes in the wake of the pandemic and the enormous challenges it created. More than ever, it makes me appreciate the resilience of the tourism industry, a staff that believes deeply in the power of travel, and a state with infinite appeal to those who travel for business, pleasure or both.
Travel And Tour World: What are you plans to promote North Carolina tourism sector? And how you are planning to attract your destinations to the global tourists?
Wit Tuttell: Visit North Carolina has representation in international markets through contract agencies and through Travel South USA. These representatives are invaluable when it comes to tailoring our marketing and public relations efforts. Sometimes the strategy canters on cultural or heritage connections, such as Scotland’s golf legacy and its offspring in Pinehurst and other destinations. Other times it might relate to geography, with promoting our coastal locations to an inland nation. Anytime there’s a question as to what might appeal in a given market, we can always zero in on points of interest.
Travel And Tour World: Share with us the data about the arrival of tourists, overnight stays and tourists’ expenditure in North Carolina in 2021-2022 tourism seasons? What is your expectation in future in terms of arrival of tourists, tourists’ expenditure number of hotel bookings and overnight stays?
Wit Tuttell: Our latest research shows a strong comeback for 2021. North Carolina visitation rose 45 percent over the previous year with every part of the state sharing in the economic recovery. If you want numbers, we had nearly 45 million visitors who spent $28.9 billion, which falls just short of our record from 2019, the year before the pandemic. North Carolina ranks fifth in visitation among U.S. states. We aren’t as well known with international travellers, largely because many of our biggest attractions are national parks, seashores and natural areas that don’t have large marketing budgets behind them. However, when international visitors come to the state, they rave about their experiences.
In terms of expectations, we clearly acknowledge the worldwide economic uncertainties. But if the volatility subsides, we have every reason to be optimistic. In both range and quality, the North Carolina travel experience can meet the needs of everyone from luxury seekers to adventurers, culinary travellers, families and anyone who appreciates natural scenic beauty. And destination choices cover the spectrum — majestic mountains, high-energy cities, a windswept coast, delightful towns and tranquil countryside. When potential visitors learn about the state’s offerings, we know that they will want to visit.
Travel And Tour World: What are the regions or the destinations do you want to promote to the tourists in North Carolina?
Wit Tuttell: Looking beyond our famous bucket-list destinations, most of them in the mountains and on the coast, we see an opportunity to point the way to under-the-radar towns and communities across the state. The pace is generally more relaxed in places like New Bern, Shelby and Hickory, which makes it easy to connect with people, to tap into the culture, and to gain a deep sense of the authenticity that makes these destinations special and makes the experience so meaningful. Visit NC also plans to continue the effort to generate interest in cities that are rebuilding their meeting and convention business in the pandemic’s aftermath.
Travel And Tour World: Tell us about the meetings and event scenario in North Carolina. How the convention bureau and the tourism board are working to attract more business events, exhibitions and meetings?
Wit Tuttell: Meetings are back in North Carolina. We are seeing strong bookings for the rest of 2022. Events are also returning across the state. When travel was still restricted due to the pandemic, we conducted virtual trade missions and shows to keep the state top-of-mind with meeting planners. Now we have created a partnership with NorthStar Meetings Group (publishers of Meetings & Conventions, Successful Meetings, Incentive, SportsTravel, M&C Asia, M&C China and Meeting News ), where destinations across the state can enter into co-operative marketing efforts with Northstar that are supported by Visit NC.
Travel And Tour World: How has the MICE arrangements been from pandemic? How many events you have secured in 2022-2023 MICE tourism season?
Wit Tuttell: As a state tourism office, we do not manage meetings or incentive travel. That is left up to the local tourism offices throughout the state.
Travel And Tour World: Share with us about the sustainability and responsible tourism approach of North Carolina?
Wit Tuttell: Given the value of outdoor experiences to North Carolina tourism, Visit NC responded to the increased demand on our parks, forests and other natural areas by partnering with the state’s outdoor recreation industry and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to create the Outdoor NC initiative. It’s designed to help travellers get the most out of their time outdoors while minimising the impact on these priceless public spaces. We’re working with destinations and organisations across the state to recommend alternatives to our busiest national and state parks as well as reinforcing the principles of sustainable travel, such as planning ahead, sticking to trails and removing trash. Based on the response from our tourism partners and from travellers, Outdoor NC is clearly addressing an important need that will almost certainly keep growing.
Travel And Tour World: As we all know World Tourism Day is going to happen in next month. The main theme of the World Tourism Day is “Rethink tourism” What are your take on World Tourism Day? Share your opinion within 300 words.
Wit Tuttell: We are “rethinking” everything we do related to tourism marketing. Coming out of the pandemic, travellers are rethinking everything in their lives, including travel. They are re-evaluating how they spend their time and what is important in their lives. We have to respond to their new needs and desires to showcase our areas in ways that will appeal to these new mindsets.
We also are rethinking the way we target potential visitors. We can’t just try to get as many visitors to come as often as possible. We want to get the right visitors at the right time. This will keep our destinations robust but not overcrowded, and bring the type of travellers who appreciate the state’s rich heritage, culture and natural beauty.