It was a news story…..something we kept up with out of concern for the human race, but we went on with our lives, like it wasn’t going to affect us, until it did. COVID-19, later to be dubbed “the ‘ VID” by tourism guru Bill Geist had spread to our country and soon to North Carolina and our community. March 10th marked the day Governor Cooper declared a state of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which quickly followed by what seemed like a domino effect with school closures, reduced mass gatherings, cancelled events, including High Point Market, which had not been cancelled since World War II, and ultimately a Stay-At-Home-Order. Hotel occupancy was at an all- time low, bars were forced to close, and restaurants were encouraged to implement delivery, take out and curb-side services. Out of all the industries, travel was hit the hardest, with 53 percent of jobs lost in North Carolina since February of last year, according to a recent report from BLS, given during a presentation by Wit Tuttell, Visit NC’s Director of Tourism. The hospitality sector across the globe was faced with uncertainty and here at home equally unsure of what was ahead.
What happened next in High Point? Resilience. A community came together and rallied in support of our hospitality partners. Visit High Point worked closely with Business High Point Chamber of Commerce to support our local restaurants, compiling their alternative services to promote on the Chamber’s, now infamous High Point Food Mob Facebook Group page, offering recommendations and shout-outs from our local community with photos and feedback from nearly 10,000 loyal followers. Business High Point kept the momentum going with the High Point Biz Mob Facebook Group page with nearly 1,500 followers, sharing information and promotions about their businesses. High Point Discovered kicked off its #SeeTheGood campaign with the help of Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library, donating yards signs that quickly sprinkled across the city. Business High Point spread positive stories through its Community First, Community Always campaign. Visit High Point worked to make sure our hospitality partners remained sustainable by calling, emailing and posting communications about funding resources made through the CARES Act and PPP programs.
The NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) partnered to establish guidelines to assist businesses with steps needed to safely reopen in appropriate phases of the Governor’s Executive Orders. They worked closely with Visit NC, North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) and NC State to create the statewide health and safety initiative, Count on Me NC. Visit High Point lead the efforts locally to make sure our area hotels and restaurants were participating in the safety plan and had the appropriate marketing support to communicate to locals and visitors which resulted in more than 120 certified hospitality businesses prior to the return of HPU students in August and the October Market. We worked closely with High Point University and High Point Market Authority to ensure streamlined messaging was in place as we worked to build the confidence in visitors coming to High Point. We extended our efforts to include Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Archdale as our impactful events include a hospitality community of the entire Triad.
Due to lifestyle changes imposed by the ‘VID, we chose to continue our marketing campaign highlighting High Point as a furniture shopping destination. Home Office, Living Room and Outdoor Spaces were among the most popular requests we received from eager shoppers wanting to update their spaces. Through a state grant, led by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) and NC Travel Industry Association (NCTIA), we were able to produce a promotional video showcasing High Point as a safe furniture shopping destination. Our team responded to nearly 1,000 furniture shopping requests as a result of this campaign and continues to see quality visitor traffic from these efforts.
As North Carolina moved into Phases 2, 2.5, and 3 our partners were innovatively finding ways to engage visitation while still providing a safe environment. Kersey Valley Attractions worked with Woods of Terror in Greensboro to establish safety guidelines for haunted attractions. Spookywoods still had a successful season, with patrons having to make reservations, social distance and staff and visitors wearing face masks, which, by the way, got some traction on social media as folks thought the staff were not wearing masks at all. Leave it to our creative talent to make facemasks that matched each person’s crafted costume. Odeh’s, Typsy’z Taco’s and Lone Star Burger found ways to provide outdoor seating. Newly hired High Point Rocker’s President, Pete Fisch found ways to host sports teams safely while honoring executive orders, recruiting over 200 games to Truist Point Stadium. The High Point Market Authority worked with the City of High Point, Wake Forest Baptist-High Point Medical Center and Visit High Point to implement new levels of safety assurances for the fall market. Theatre Art Galleries (TAG) implemented a new exhibit inspired from turbulent times in 2020. After hosting last year’s exhibit of Paul Tazewell’s award-winning costumes, including Hamilton and The Wiz, TAG was left with 15 mannequins of a blank canvas for artist to let out their creativity.
So, as I reflect back on 2020, never could I have imagined a year ago, where we would be today with the losses of lives, jobs and the overall economy. While I will never forget those, we’ve lost and the challenges we had and are still to come, I choose to focus on the positive outcomes that came to be through the partners that worked together for the common good of our industry and our city. We can’t stop now. We will continue to partner to create a stronger High Point. We need our partners to succeed so our locals and visitors can enjoy positive experiences as we work towards getting back to the way things were. While “the way things were” may take some time, Visit High Point is preparing a Come Back Campaign. In a recent Destinations Analysist Travel Sentiment Study, people are hungry for travel and are making plans, whether it’s to see friends and family, enjoy the outdoors or planning a furniture shopping excursion, Destination Management Organizations (DMO’s) across the globe are equipped and ready to welcome them back and Visit High Point is primed to do the same. We have so much to be thankful for and we look forward to sharing our story as we invite each visitor to make yourself at home.