The North American Travel Journalists Association or NATJA visit towns and cities all over for its annual conference and marketplace – this year the journalists are in Orange County from Tuesday to Thursday.
“They don’t go places really that are well-known necessarily, like big cities that might have unique stories to tell,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle. “And I think in particular, HB2 both scared them and intrigued them, that we were so anti-HB2, so we did a lot of wooing in discussion with them to tell them why the Orange County community here was so unique.”
The journalists will stop in Carrboro to learn about the town’s story, and it will be part of the media tours during the three-day conference. Lavelle said the conference will also be great for local businesses and restaurants, since the journalists will be writing about their experiences.
“Those are people who go out to eat, go out and shop in our shops, then they leave and go home,” said Lavelle. “So, they spend their money here and that’s really what has helped our sales tax increase. We’ve had almost a million dollar increase over the last eight or nine years of sales tax.”
But sales tax is a hot topic in Orange County right now, as Senate Bill 126 moves through the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill could reallocate revenue from sales taxes to less prosperous counties in the state.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said this could mean local businesses will take a big hit.
“The hope is that it doesn’t pass and they come up with some other kind of plan to help the counties that are in need,” she said. “But the secondary hope is that it wouldn’t pass for this fiscal year. It would wait a whole year is the other option that we’re hoping—that between those two they’ll at least pick one of those.”
She said there are other options to ensure that counties with little economic resources can grow, like providing them with resources rather than money.
“The metro mayors got together and tried to work with republican leadership to say with the finance chair that there are better ways to do this than how they’re approaching it and we’re not sure why that message was not taken to heart,” Hemminger said.
But Hemminger said with continued support and tourism, Orange County can continue to flourish–and much of that support will come from NATJA.
“They’re going to be at the Carolina Inn and having dinner,” she said. “They’re going to stay at the Sheraton—I believe, they’re going to go to the botanical garden, the basketball museum, they’re going to take a farm tour—we’ll be at Valhalla, they want to see all kinds of things. They heard we’re a foodie town, they’re excited to see the things we have to offer at Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and the county.”