Tourism – Growing Gaston County’s (No Longer) Sleeping Giant

SEABROOK SAYS: Let’s hear it for Michael Applegate!  Mike, our new Director of Travel and Tourism, brings refreshing new energy to Gaston County.  Read and be reminded of all the good things to do and see right here at home. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Over the past two decades, Gaston County’s travel & tourism industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Remarkably, even with this amazing surge, our best is yet to come.

What We Do and Who We Do It For

As Director of our County’s destination marketing organization, I strive to stay focused on four major areas that best serve our local residents, municipal stakeholders, industry partners and the traveling public:

  1. Marketing and Selling to the Visitor – this includes targeting the right group and individual markets as well as both leisure and business & conference related audiences.
  2. Informing, Educating and Advising the Visitor – we publish a visitor’s guide, maintain a website, run social media campaigns, and distribute partner materials to familiarize travelers with the vast array of experiences our County offers.
  3. Delivering Services to the Visitor- acting as a liaison between the visitor and our local hotel, attraction, restaurant, and retail partners, we represent the collective interests of the industry by making recommendations that meet our customers’ needs and produce a satisfying stay.
  4. Developing the Destination – working with local governments, county departments, industry partners and community leaders we support a strategic, well-planned vision for the future growth and development of our destination.

These focus areas come to life through our strategic plan, the main pillars of which are: Sales & Marketing– we are committed to marketing the destination in creative and unique ways to grow awareness, visitation and tourism spending; Partnership– we embrace our role in representing the collective interests of our stakeholders and we value their investment in our destination; Service– we are dedicated to exceeding the expectations of our visitors, our clients, and our partners to foster positive experiences and ongoing loyalty; and Destination Management– we will advocate for the development of events and venues within our County that positively impact our tourism industry and solidify our brand position.

Tourism is Economic Development

Similar to our County’s Economic Development Commission, our goal in Travel & Tourism is to stimulate local investment. However, the investment we pursue comes in the form of visitor spending.  Any time a person travels to Gaston County from 50 miles or more away, either for the day or overnight, the dollars they spend here support our local economy. Last year, visitors to Gaston County collectively spent a whopping $234 million dollars.  These direct expenditures helped to employ over 1,800 individuals working in our local tourism industry. Further, spending by travelers visiting our area generated $12.9 million in state tax receipts and $3.8 million in local tax receipts.  The state and local tax collections resulting from visitor spending represent a tax savings per resident of $79.46.

In hitting the $234 million mark last year, annual visitor spending in Gaston County has now grown over $71 million in the past ten years (up from $163 million in 2005). In the past twenty years, annual visitor spending in Gaston County has grown over $132 million (up from $102 million in 1995).                Among North Carolina’s 100 Counties, Gaston County ranks seventeenth in annual visitor expenditures.

Branding a Key to Destination Management

In order to best deliver upon our organizational mission – to effectively market and promote travel to Gaston County and to strategically manage the development of future tourism assets in order to maximize overnight stays, visitor spending, client satisfaction and local partner engagement – we must have a compelling message about the experience we offer visitors. This is executed through branding- the creation of an emotional bond connecting our visitor audiences to Gaston County.  A credible, authentic, resonant brand differentiates us from the pack, provides consistent messaging for our tourism product and becomes an aspirational rallying point for residents and tourism partners.  A strong and unique identity helps us attract more visitors and to generate more revenue. With branding, we actively support all pillars of our strategic plan- sales & marketing, partnership, client satisfaction and destination management.

With our strategic plan and unique positioning through destination branding, Gaston County is poised to grow tourism to levels not previously seen. I am incredibly excited to part of this vibrant destination, particularly at this time.

Michael Applegate
Director, Gaston County Travel and Tourism

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