HB2 Hurts Tourism

As a County Commissioner, I have the opportunity to serve on the board of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a board that helps build and maintain Orange County’s tourism industry.

I’ve learned a lot.  I used to be one of those people who assumed that tourism just took care of itself.  After all, we’re home to one of the greatest universities in the country. Admissions are strong.  So people are just going to visit and stay here right?

Wrong.  Our entire region is a magnet for tourists now. We can’t take it for granted that travelers are going to stay and play in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County anymore.  It takes work.  And we’ve had great success. But for the first time, I’m worried.

HB2 is hurting us. Tourism is declining, and we’ve lost an important conference:  the Public Management Research Associates Conference, scheduled to take place in Chapel Hill in June, 2017, has been cancelled. All because of HB2.

The anticipated economic loss is roughly $460,000 and those are dollars that will not be spent at restaurants, those are dollars that will not be spent retail establishments, and those are dollars that will not be spent hotels. That means potential jobs losses.

As cancellations mount, the Visitors Bureau projects a total loss to be approximately $1.2 million — and that’s just the business we can track.  Who knows how many folks were considering North Carolina for a visit and changed their mind?

The bottom line is our tourism industry is suffering.

HB2 is a complicated bill and we are legally bound by it.  But what saddens me most is that our area’s reputation as being a leader in social justice and an inclusive and welcoming enclave for all is now in question.

Let’s remember to welcome everybody, because everybody is welcome. That’s who we are, and who we will always strive to be.


— Penny Rich.


Orange County Tourism Increases in Wake of Recession

ORANGE COUNTY – The Department of Commerce says tourism reached an all-time high in Orange County last year.

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Executive Director of the Orange County Visitors Bureau, Laurie Paolicelli says the industry generated about 161 million dollars last calendar year.

Paolicelli says the spending trend has continued this year.

“We’ve seen almost double digit increases,” Paolicelli says. “We’re right at about nine percent. This past June we were astounded that we were close to 85 percent occupancy rates in Orange County.”

Paolicelli attributes the increase to businesses reopening their pocket books after a recession hit wallets hard in 2009.

“When we see more business travel, when we see the governor, and the chancellor, and education saying that it’s okay to travel again, all of that has greatly contributed to our success,” Paolicelli says.

Orange County continued to advertise and remained on businesses’ radars when money was tight. Paolicelli says this made it memorable when businesses were ready to spend again.

“The key for us is that when the economy is down, that’s when you really advertise; because you know when the economy comes back, people remember all that you advertised,” Paolicelli says.

Paolicelli says she collaborates with the local hotel industry to focus on bringing in tourists during the work week.

“An area like a college town will generally do well on weekends,” Paolicelli says. “But then you have to fill those properties Sunday through Thursday, and we have over 1500 rooms here. That’s when you want to look at your medical business, and your business travel. That is a big part of any hotel’s budget.”

Paolicelli says she is already thinking about the future. She says she plans to continue reaching out to businesses and organizations. There are several groups on the checklist, but she emphasizes one in particular:

“I think LGBT holds very strong potential for Orange County, and I don’t believe we’re tapping into that,” Paolicelli says. “We have an openly gay mayor in Chapel Hill, and we are not attracting that growing segment nationally to the degree that we could.”

Paolicelli says hotels are filling up without needing to offer discounted prices. That’s one of many reasons spending has reached record highs.

“We had to discount during the recession, but we’re starting to see our rate come back now. Everything from our streets, to our trees, to our paths… it’s a special experience here, and people are willing to pay for it.”


Visitor’s Bureau Campaign Brings Increased Tourism to Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL – You may have noticed a lot of new faces in town this past year. That’s because Chapel Hill’s Visitor’s Bureau reported an increase in tourism to the town.

Director of the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitor’s Bureau, Laurie Paolicelli, says that June was one of the best months the town has had in years, with hotel occupancy up 12 percent.

“We ended June with a 77 percent occupancy, which is startling and amazing on many levels,” Paolicelli says. “In the past, June has always been a part of what we call the shoulder season. This area follows a traditional academic year and June has typically been slower.”

Paolicelli attributes a number of different factors to June’s high numbers, including the return of the Carolina Inn and a meeting held by a Wisconsin health care technology company.

In fact, she says meetings and business conferences are now a major target of the Visitor’s Bureau, devoting a 200 percent budget increase in that type of outreach.

“We buy lists, we do direct sales, we do online advertising and marketing, we attend trade shows, we ask for the business,” Paolicelli says. “We’re a very traditional sales agency.

Paolicelli says the Visitor’s Bureau expects similar increases in visitation in July and August.


There's A New Triangle in Town

It’s been 60 days since we launched our new campaign, The Edge of the Triangle – not that long, but long enough for us to assess certain aspects of it, especially the response locally. The reaction to the campaign has been predominantly positive, reflective of what we learned in the year of research conducted before we initiated it. Visitors and local stakeholders – retailers, restaurateurs, and hoteliers – told us that Chapel Hill is, in the parlance of advertisers, our “brand”; they come here because they want to be in a progressive and edgy environment, and they see Chapel Hill as representing that image to them.

But the truth is, Orange County is so much more than just one town, and we’ve had encouraging feedback that supports a more holistic approach to how we market the area. It’s been years since Carrboro was Chapel Hill’s “little brother”: yes, it’s all grown up now and has a personality distinct from Chapel Hill. Cat’s Cradle is in Carrboro, as is Weaver Street, film and music festivals, farmers’ markets and free markets. We’ve changed the campaign to reflect this: Carrboro now shares billing with Chapel Hill.

The same goes for Hillsborough. Hillsborough is unique: it’s both historic and progressive. Once the colonial capital of North Carolina and home to several royal and elected governors and a signer of the Declaration of Independence (William Hooper, whose house still stands), Hillsborough is where some of our greatest writers, photographers and painters live.

Neither Hillsborough nor Carrboro were omitted from the new campaign, but they need to have a brighter light shined on them within it, and that’s what they have now.

Orange County spoils us with its riches. Our job is to bring people here so they can experience it for themselves – and this is what we’re doing. But it’s never enough; we want more. Visitors who come here help our community in so many ways, and leave an invisible footprint behind when they go. They need to know that there’s a new triangle in town: it’s Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. And a triangle has three edges.


Dave Gephart
Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau


Southern Gentlemen (TM)

NOTE: Southern Gentleman and Southern Gentlemen are registered trademarks of the South. All rights reserved. Use, duplication or disclosure restricted by their good breeding and whether their mothers would approve.

I’m a native to Orange County.  Well, to be honest, my mom cringes that I have to put down the City of Medicine as my birthplace, since I was birthed at then-named Durham General.  But I didn’t realize how rare a species I was until a good friend asked as an icebreaker while presenting at a Chamber event, how many other folks were not bred or dead, but born Tar Heels. 

We were the only ones
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  We’re a transient community, part of a region that supports an NHL team, and pretty close to a municipality known as the Containment Area for Relocated Yankees.  But don’t let that deter you – a Southern Gentleman™ can make himself quite at home in the Southern part of heaven
But what is a Southern Gentleman™?  Well, I know what I’m looking for – but maybe someone else should define our audience.  Taking cues from a couple of sources – here and here (the second one referencing the disadvantageous gender ratio at Carolina) – there are a few characteristics that mark all Southern Gentlemen™:  dress (the apparel), decorum (the etiquette), dancing, and not to mention the drinking that might be a catalyst for the dancing. 
So, again back to my axiom that looking the part is half the battle, where can you dress like a Southern Gentleman™ in Chapel Hill?  Turns out Chapel Hill birthed one of the most notable designers, who is also a member of that rarest of breeds: Orange County natives.  So head downtown to the flagship for Southern Gentlemen™, Julian’s.  Head there for upscale game gear and handsome haberdashery.  He did outfit the Hornets and the Heels, true, but Mr. Julian can still outfit the less athletic among us. 
Another great place to for the Southern Gentleman™ to shop is O’Neill’s.  Mr. O’Neill and his son (and my classmate) John Michael are Southern Gentlemen™ themselves and have helped outfit the men of my family for many years, including saving the day on several special occasions [read: last minute Christmas gifts and my dad’s tux for my sister’s wedding]. 
As long as you’re at University Mall, stop in for a Southern Gentleman™ staple: the bowtie.  If you’re going to get one for your guy, get it at Cameron’s: $5 from every purchase of a tie there goes to support the pediatric oncology department at UNC.  He’s not sure how to wear one?  Watch the experts tie one on


Aaron Nelson-bow tie
My boss Aaron Nelson wearing
one of Cameron’s bow ties. 

Even more than a Southern Gentleman™’s dress, I think most folks think of a guy’s decorum.  So, if someone needs a little coaching to convince the opposite sex that he wasn’t born in a barn, where does he go?  I got some great tips from the etiquette dinner hosted at Carolina Club by my alumni association, but I think if men:

…they’ll be in good shape to start resembling a Southern Gentleman™. However, I believe that every male should aim to possess impeccable manners, no matter where their geographic location (or trademark).
But even though Southern Gentlemen™ may possess politeness and poise, they do like to cut loose and cut a rug, more often than not. The dance of choice for the Southern Gentleman™ is the shag (think Phoebe Cates, NOT Austin Powers). Though I learned the dance from my big brother on the beach, you can practice at some great local events – like the annual Sweet Carolina Concert Series and Fridays on the Front Porch.  But if you’re a serious shagger, you can join the Eno Beach Shag Club at the Time Out Sports Bar (thanks for the tip, Deborah!)


Me dancing with Southern Gentleman™
and Orange County native B.J. Perlmutt

But maybe you’ve got two left feet or you’re not a big fan of Chairmen of the Board (NOTE: If this is the case, sorry, you’re probably not a Southern Gentleman™), but there are lots of other great places in Orange County to learn how to boogie:

  • The Arts Center: Molly recommends Bollywood and Bhangra!
  • The Carrboro Century Center: My friend Sarah really wants us to try contra dancing.
  • Seymour and Central Orange Senior Centers: For the Southern Gentleman™ that’s been around the block a time or two.  The Central Orange Center was host to a program called “Music and Mint Juleps,” according to the most recent copy of Senior Times!
  • The Depot: The west end of Hillsborough has come alive and The Depot is host to ballroom dancing classes, among other opportunities to whirl around. 

However, even the most experienced shaggers might be coaxed on the dance floor a little bit sooner, with some liquid courage.  But where can you get a really good, I mean, really good cocktail?  You only have to park your car once to visit four locales with amazing drinks (just remember to hail a cab on your way home). 

  • The Crunkleton: Wearing their signature bow ties, these bartenders have incredible service and can even teach you how to make your own classic cocktail. 
  • Crook’s: At this iconic restaurant, their mint juleps come in the frozen form, but my latest obsession is their jalapeño margarita (see below). 
  • Pecadillo: Their signature is the negroni (not exactly Southern, I know, but they’ll make it with your favorite brand of bourbon). 
  • Lantern: They have a champagne cocktail named after Smithfield native Ava Gardner.  Enough said. 


jalapeno martini
The jalapeño margarita at Crook’s Corner.

I will confess to liking the phrase “American by birth, Southern by the grace of God.”  But even if you haven’t been blessed to have been born in the South, Chapel Hill has plenty to offer the seasoned or sophomoric Southern Gentleman™. 
And if you’ve got the dress, decorum, dancing, and drinking down, then you’ll be a perfect fit in the Southern part of heaven.  …Also, you should give me a call…