New tourism pitches unveiled in time for spring

The mountains are an undeniable tourist magnet, but with so many WNC destinations to chose from, the crusade to stand out from the pack is prompting county tourism agencies to constantly refine and redefine their message.

What will entice a vacationer to their corner of the Smokies — will outdoor adventures catch their eye, a quaint downtown draw them in or mountain music festivals win them over?


In Western North Carolina, the natural landscape is an obvious and principl piece of tourism marketing campaigns. But tourism agencies have to ask themselves, “What makes their county different from others?” 

During the winter, county tourism agencies have been prepping their new taglines for debut in April advertising — just as tourism season is gearing up.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will premiere a new marketing campaign centered on the tagline “Fresh from the N.C. Smokies,” which will be featured in each ad. 

The advertising strategy focuses on unique items found and made in Haywood County, including dulcimers, trout and a quilt trail — playing up a homegrown, homemade feel.

“They are trying to be true to who they are,” said Jay Sokolow, an account executive with The Tombras Group, a Knoxville-based advertising agency. “That’s important in any business.”

Haywood’s tourism agency has contracted with The Tombras Group for about seven years to design ads that appear in magazines from Our State to Southern Living to Smoky Mountain Living, on billboards and as banner ads on different websites. They developed a slate of magazine ad ideas with the new “Fresh from the N.C. Smokies” slogan, which was recently unveiled to the tourism board.

The ads are designed with specific audiences in mind. One pictured fruit with the words “These blueberries aren’t going to pick themselves.” Another read “I am going to need a bigger weekend” over top the outline of a beer bottle to play up the three craft breweries in Waynesville. 

Meanwhile, Swain County tourism leaders will kickoff a new advertising tagline this year as well. The county’s old slogan was “Make a play date in Swain County.”

This year, it will be “Have a big vacation in a small town.” It’s debut in an Our State magazine ads will run with an image of the all-American family against the backdrop of Fontana Lake, the mountains and downtown Bryson City.

Ads, no matter whether they target outdoorsy families or motorcycle enthusiasts, will feature the distinct tagline. It has to capture the essence of the county yet work in just about any ad catering to different types of tourists.

“We don’t want six different taglines,” said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce. “We want one comprehensive tagline.”

A slogan change is part and parcel with new branding campaigns, which counties and towns typically revamp every few years. There’s a balance in just how often to reinvent their message. By running with the same a brand for at least a few years, small counties with small advertising budgets can start to build a customer base.

“You don’t develop this sense of place if you do it every year. You don’t develop a following,” Wilmot said.

Budgets affect where and how often an ad will run. As a rule of thumb, an ad must run four times before it’s noticed by the reader, Wilmot said, so if you can’t afford to place an ad in a publication more than once or twice, the money might not be worth it.

“Is it really a good investment for us considering we are going to get lost in the shuffle?” Wilmot said.

Swain County works with Charles and Ellen Snodgrass of the Whittier-based Deep Creek Arts, who Wilmot said are keenly aware of how to market the county because of their proximity and connection to area.

“We have a big picture and then they bring us ideas,” Wilmot said. “It is very easy for them to understand what we want.”

Similarly, Haywood County’s tourism board devised the idea for underlining all the activities, places and products that are part of the county’s identity but looked to the professionals to build a comprehensive ad campaign around it. 

“It’s clean; it’s simple; and it really is representative of what we have in Haywood County to sell,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of Haywood County tourism development authority.

Unlike a Disney vacation, beach resort or cruise, people coming to the mountains are looking for a genuine experience — not necessarily a touristy one. They want to eat where the locals eat and hike where the locals hike. A good ad will make them feel invited into that inner circle.

“Your best experience is going to be more authentic,” Sokolow said. “I don’t want to go to a chain restaurant [when I go on vacation].”

Feeding off that idea, the tourism board’s advertising campaign will spotlight buying fresh, local products.

“‘Fresh’ is a fabulous word for Haywood County,” Sokolow said. The idea conjures up everything from fresh air to fresh foods to fresh music.

In Jackson County, tourism leaders are also coming up with a new slogan. Since a county’s entire tourism campaign will ultimately revolve around its slogan, coming up with one was seen as job number one for the newly formed Jackson County Tourism Development Agency.

Jackson County used to have two tourism authorities —one in Cashiers and one for the county. This year, however, the two were combined into one overarching tourism agency to manage promotions and campaigns for the county as a whole.

That means that the newly formed tourism agency needs to create a new brand and advertising campaign from scratch.

Ads paid for by the two, now defunct tourism agencies will continue to run until July, giving the new countywide tourism board time to craft just-the-right brand.

“This an exciting time for us, and this is a time we can’t afford to screw it up,” said Clifford Meads, chair of the Jackson tourism authority board and manager of High Hampton Inn in Cashiers.

Jackson hired the Virginia-based marketing company BCF to handle its reinvention. The company sent out 7,000 surveys and made calls to Jackson County business owners to collect information on what people like about the county and what they would want to see highlighted in an advertising campaign or slogan. The Jackson tourism board will not see proposed branding ideas until later this month.

“What that identity is going to be I have no clue,” Meads said. “I’ve got ideas that I think would fly really well, but I don’t know what they will come up with.”

In addition to kicking off a print advertising campaign, an important piece of any rebranding campaign is an online presence. Now more than ever, people are planning their vacations online. Tourism agencies’ have upped their Internet advertising budgets and also improved their websites.

“Because of the way people shop now, if you will, for vacations, we do a lot more digital centric marketing,” Sokolow said.

The websites must also be more user-friendly to persuade someone to visit. Haywood’s new website, that will debut along with its new advertisements, will feature a picture of the Smokies, maps showing people how close the county is to other tourism areas like Knoxville or Asheville, and tabs for specific activities such as hiking or motorcycling.

Go to top