Fresh off the heels of a record-breaking year for Wilmington’s tourism industry, a new marketing campaign by the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau aims to build on the momentum by attracting new travelers to the area this season.
The effort is funded with additional money in the organization’s budget, a result of the best-ever collection of $22.6 million in room occupancy taxes in the 2021-22 fiscal year. The visitors bureau has put this money to work by researching trends in Wilmington’s tourism sector and expanding the organization’s outreach to potential visitors.
For example, the visitors bureau has traditionally focused its marketing efforts within North Carolina, said president and CEO Kim Hufham. However, an audience research study conducted in the first phase of the new campaign revealed the time was ripe to tap markets outside of the state.
“It brought to light that outside of the immediate North Carolina area, visitors were not aware of us and what we have to offer,” Hufham said. She listed Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and the Washington D.C. area as new markets identified in their research. Western North Carolina will also be included in new outreach efforts.
Those who travel farther distances are likely to extend their stay in the area, Hufham noted, which gives visitors from these markets the potential to generate a larger economic impact during a stay than visitors coming from North Carolina.
“We know that an out-of-state visitor is generally going to stay a few days longer because it’s a little farther away and spend more money,” Hufham said.
Arrivalist is another data source used to refine the new campaign’s messaging. According to Hufham, Arrivalist allows the organization to track trends in visitor movement within the county using GPS data from cell phones. One trend confirmed by Arrivalist data is that visitors who travel to local beach communities also spend time in Wilmington and vice versa.
With that data in mind, the new marketing campaign’s messaging is focused on both the proximity of Wilmington to nearby states as well as the county’s diverse options for recreation and leisure, according to Connie Nelson, communications and public relations director for the visitors bureau.
“We have an ocean. We have the riverfront. We have the history,” Nelson said. “There’s so much to do in our one destination, and we’re so close to a lot of these [markets]. Either we’re an easy drive, or a direct flight, or an easy connecting flight.”
Ease of travel between Wilmington’s amenities also set it apart, Nelson noted.
“A lot of coastal destinations, you have to go on a ferry to get to the next island, or it’s a longer haul between the oceanfront and the historic district. So we’re kind of unique in that respect, and I think we’re going to be playing up on that,” she said.
Now in the outreach stage, this campaign will utilize an array of expanded media channels to build destination awareness in the targeted areas. Custom content, email marketing, print, paid search, paid social media and video marketing are among the strategies Hufham listed for the campaign.
“We’ve really been able to use these dollars and expand the ways we’re reaching people,” Hufham said.
All in all, the new marketing campaign comes with a $750,000 price tag. The visitors bureau could start seeing a return on investment as soon as next month. The campaign is focused on drawing new visitors to the area in the spring and fall shoulder seasons, which are the times between the peak summer season and slower winter months.
“That’s where we have the biggest potential for growth,” Hufham said. In the spring months of March, April and May, she said the visitors bureau hopes to attract families from new markets, while in the fall months, their messaging will shift to focus on those traveling without children.