“Telling Stories”: Two County Departments Merge Into One

After a slight restructuring in the 2015-16 budget, two Orange County government departments are coming together as one.

The Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau and the Orange County Public Affairs Department have merged into the “Orange County Community Relations and Tourism Department” – headed up by Laurie Paolicelli, who’s been the director of the Visitors Bureau since 2005.

Paolicelli says the merger was the brainchild of county manager Bonnie Hammersley. She says it makes perfect sense: the Visitors Bureau speaks mainly to out-of-towners and the Public Affairs department speaks mainly to residents, but both departments have always been engaged in “telling stories” about living, working, and playing in Orange County.

Paolicelli spoke Thursday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Paolicelli says the Visitors Center will remain in its current spot on Franklin Street.


CH/OC Visitors Bureau Accredited; CH Town Hall Reopening; SolarBees

Congratulations to the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, just awarded accreditation status from the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program.

The Orange County Visitors Bureau first received accreditation in 2010; it’s one of only 150 Convention and Visitors Bureaus in the U.S. to receive that honor.

It’s been more than a year since the big flood of 2013, and Town Hall is still undergoing renovations – but progress is being made, and on August 11 the Town of Chapel Hill is expecting to open some new offices.

Starting on Monday, August 11, the town’s Development Services Division and Revenue Office will be open on the ground floor of Town Hall, with the Business Management Department on the second floor. Cashiering will remain at University Square until August 8, then move back to Town Hall after that.

The renovations are being done in part to repair flood damage, but also to improve customer service. Council Chambers is scheduled to be reopen by September.

In order to reduce the level of algae in Jordan Lake, state officials are installing thirty-six solar-powered water circulators called SolarBees in the lake this month.

Installation began on July 21; it’s expected to take about two weeks. Twelve of the “SolarBees” will be placed in the southern part of the lake by the Haw River; the other 24 will be placed in the northern part of the lake by Morgan Creek.


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.

***Listen to the Story***

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.”