The Wilmington area continues to see record growth in the hospitality sector. For the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, (CVB) that means opportunity.
The CVB’s annual Program of Work (POW) reveals the results of a variety of research studies that will translate into initiatives designed to encourage growth in the hospitality sector as well as facilitate partnerships among area businesses.
“The Program of Work is our guidebook for the year. It is how we direct our objectives and strategies,” said CVB President and CEO Kim Hufham.
Given that the Wilmington area set another record for fiscal year 2021-22 for room occupancy tax collections, the CVB was able to increase its budget by 90%, which will allow the organization to “implement its most ambitious Program of Work to date during fiscal year 2022-2023,” according to the group.
“We are able to do much more aggressive marketing than we did before,” Hufham said. “As our budget grows, we are able to do more things.”
The Program of Work data reveals a strong recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially slowed the growth of the hospitality sector, she said.
“Key indicators reveal our destination is rebounding more quickly than expected from the devastating losses incurred during the pandemic’s early stages,” according to a CVB presentation.
As a result, the goals have been established to address areas that require attention.
“The goal is for unified forward momentum with added resources that more effectively support key marketing and sales initiatives in the leisure, sports, meeting/convention sectors,” the report stated.
Based on research conducted by the CVB, a new audience research study identified a “destination awareness” issue. As a result, the CVB will implement a public relations campaign to bring first-time visitors to Wilmington and its beaches.
“We do really well within North Carolina, especially with visitors from the Triangle, the Triad and Charlotte, so we will be shifting our marketing to Western North Carolina and surrounding states,” Hufham said. “Kicking off in January, we will begin our specific out-of-state marketing awareness campaign.”
According to Hufham, the campaign will work to attract more visitors year-round. Since school is back in session, weekends remain strong, but travel is more limited, so a different customer will be targeted.
Weekday travelers in the fall might include retirees, couples without children, empty-nesters and girls’ trip visitors. In the spring, with all the different spring breaks, the focus shifts to “more of a family-centered element,” Hufham said.
The new creative concepts platform is a multimedia campaign.
“There are so many things to do and see here,” Hufham said. “This Come and Stay campaign will draw people’s attention with new photos, videos and a multimedia platform.”
Another aspect of the marketing campaign includes implementing broader sports marketing strategies based on a recent assessment study that evaluated local facilities.
Hufham indicated that the CVB’s goal is to help local event organizers to grow their events like marathons and triathlons, as well as promote events like local youth sports tournaments at area facilities and use the Wilmington Convention Center for indoor events such as wrestling, gymnastics and cheerleading competitions.
“It is about growing events as much as it is about bringing in new ones,” Hufham said.
Having launched its new website in 2021, the CVB plans to expand its reach with a location-based Mobile Trip Guide that could be ready by January.
“It will allow us to optimize a mobile function with a new mobile experience. Plastic placards with a QR code will be available at hotels, restaurants and shops that will take customers to the mobile trip guide and provide them with options for things to do and see within the area,” Hufham said.
All of this revenue will empower the CVB to implement strategies to tap into new markets and new ways to get people to stay longer, she said.
While the group market – conventions and meetings – was the slowest to return from the pandemic fallout, Hufham said that it, too, has returned to positive earnings.
To continue the rebound from this lull, the CVB will focus on group business in nonpeak times of November through March. This means promoting Wilmington’s Convention District, the convention center and their offerings, along with downtown and Riverfront development.
Social media is another element that the POW addresses. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are all outlets the CVB is using to tap into various markets.
The CVB updates its POW guidebook each year to highlight certain elements to target various markets.
“Our sales and marketing efforts pulls all our departments together to be a cohesive marketing player,” Hufham said. “We are excited for this new direction for marketing and advertising, and we are hoping for a great year.”