Visitors Bureau preparing to welcome visitors
Citing statistics from destination analysts, Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles told the Dare County Tourism Board of Directors on April 16 that an estimated 74 percent of people are concerned about contracting COVID-19, with an even a higher percentage concerned about their family and friends being infected.While the timing of initiating reentry into Dare County for visitors and non-resident property owners remains uncertain, the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau is already preparing for vacationers with the development of a public relations campaign that emphasizes public health and safety as a top priority.
“I can’t stress this enough – it can’t be business as usual. We’ve got to adapt,” Nettles asserted, adding that people are scared about their health and financial situations. He noted that the bureau was “optimistic, with what we understand about reentry dates, that we’re going to be able to salvage some summer.”
Also on April 16, Dare County Control Group officials said they are discussing a timeline for entry into the county that would likely be implemented in stages, with non-resident property owners allowed back before visitors.
Nettles proposed to the board a new advertising slogan that plays off “The summer of love” called “The Summer of gLove,” with an icon depicting hands with surgical gloves forming a heart. A tagline would read “Be Safe. Be Smart. Have Fun.”
“It’s a message to our visitors certainly, but it’s a message to our locals as well, to everyone that really we’ve got to get to that new normal on vacation,” Nettles said. “We’ve got to recognize that people have safety concerns for themselves and for their friends and family. And not only that, we as a community have safety concerns and the tourism industry has concerns for their homeowners, for their employees and for their guests. We are all in it together.”
Nettles floated the possibility of having banners, and even working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to paint flowers on the road, as people are coming off the bridge onto the Outer Banks. Tie-dye T-shirts promoting the campaign are also a possibility and reader boards at local businesses that welcome people back were also mentioned as possible components of the campaign.
Another element would be to ask local businesses to take a “tourism pledge,” which would include businesses stating that they would do everything in their power to protect the health and welfare of employees and guests. Those businesses who signed the pledge would be highlighted on the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau’s landing page, which would have a brief description of the measures they were taking to ensure safety.
“What I’m describing, it isn’t a promotion, we’re going to walk the walk. We’re going to show people…how we’re making it safer for everybody but still, to have some fun,” he noted. We’re all going to be traveling with the coronavirus out there, so we’ve got to just own that and get to the ‘new normal’ vacations.”
For his part, tourism board member Doug Brindley of Brindley Beach Vacations, told the group how leaders in his industry are collaborating to develop protocols regarding how vacation rentals will be cleaned according to Center for Disease Control standards. He said that group, along with representatives of the restaurant industry, have shared those protocols with the Dare County Control Group to assist them in making their decisions moving forward as far as entry back into the county.
Noting that non-resident homeowners have been “dinged” and “irritated” by not being able to enter the county, Brindley suggested the possibility of creating a video specifically for non-resident homeowners welcoming them back.
“We clearly have an issue with the non-resident property owners,” Nettles acknowledged. “Personally, I feel like there’s nothing that we can say to them or show them right now that will make that necessarily go away. Strategically, I feel like we need to just kind of get to it, we need to reopen and we need to welcome them and everybody else back in…and just recognize that that safety has to be a big part of how we welcome everyone back.”
Board member Webb Fuller also weighed in on the issue of non-resident property owners. “From my perspective, we need to apologize to them…We haven’t been very kind to the non-resident property owner during this bad time and we know it’s a bad time. We are going through something that is unprecedented so we had to react in certain ways, and we did the best we can. But if we might have made a mistake or something, we might need to own up to that.”
Bobby Owens, another board member and also mayor of Manteo, added that Dare County Control Group – which he also sits on – is “catching holy hell” from non-resident property owners. “I’m apologizing to them, but that’s about all we can do. This is a very serious disease and we’ve kept, at least Dare County, at the lower level. As of April 16, Dare County has had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with one death.
Nettles said that part of the campaign was aimed at closing the divide between local residents and the tourism industry. “Because, of course, everybody remains concerned that when we open, we’re potentially bringing the virus back in here,” Nettles acknowledged. “So hopefully, putting the safety message front and center speaks to the locals to let them know that the tourism industry – we care about this community and we’re going to take the steps to do everything that we can to protect it.”