The Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau has a new leader and this week she unveiled a colorful new visitors guide, as well as her plan to attract more people to Sampson County.
The new director of the CVB, Sheila Barefoot outlined her plans to the Sampson Board of Commissioners, addressing her aim to develop a strategic plan to put Sampson in a position to continue its upward trend in total visitors and money generated, as well as a proposal to double the room occupancy tax that serves as a key resource in marketing the county.
“My first 32 business days here at work, I’ve visited over 28 industry partners,” said Barefoot, who also attended Visit NC’s Tourism Resource Assistance Conference and is set to attend Visit NC 365 conference in March. In addition to the colorful brochure, Barefoot said she is also revamping the county’s rack card brochure program.
The CVB Board has three goals: develop a strategic plan, increase the room occupancy tax rate and establish new marketing strategies. Barefoot said she has already contacted a dozen consulting firms that focus on formulating strategic plans for destination marketing organizations, with proposals due by the end of this week.
“We’ll gather the facts, we’ll make every effort to get input from the key players and then we’ll do a SWOT analysis, where we identify our strengths, our weaknesses, our opportunities and our threats,” said Barefoot. All of that data will be examined and short- and long-term goals will be established.
Commissioner Clark Wooten lauded Barefoot for her “impressive” plan.
“When I hear a process that involves all the stakeholders, that is key,” Wooten remarked. “I understand there are challenges, but the difference between success and failure is when you come to the point of a challenge to find a solution. That makes me feel good about where we’re going.”
Barefoot said a key goal in growing Sampson’s tourism industry would be to double the room occupancy tax, a 3 percent levy paid by visitors of local lodging facilities. That money is spent to market, advertise and promote the county. That annual marketing pot has averaged $17,500 in recent years.
That tax generated $57,200 in 2012-13. That number climbed to $62,567 in 2013-14, an increase of 9.4 percent, then to $73,406 in 2014-15, an increase of 17.4 percent over the previous year.
“We’re on track to be at an even higher percentage this year,” Barefoot said, noting an increased ROT would mean increasing marketing for Sampson.
While Sampson’s room occupancy tax rate stands at 3 percent, the ROT in Wayne and Johnston stands at 5 percent, and Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett and Pender are at 6 percent.
“I have visited each of the local lodging providers and each has given their stamp of approval for an increase in the ROT,” Barefoot said. A proposal to the CVB Board to increase that room occupancy tax rate will likely be made in the near future.
In 2014, visitors spent nearly $47.2 million in Sampson, up from $46.1 million in 2013 and $45.1 million in 2012. Sales tax revenue generated for the state by visitors to Sampson totaled $2.57 million in 2014. Visitor spending generated local tax revenues of $1.48 million, Barefoot said.
“Visitor spending means economic growth,” she said, noting the eased tax burden, job creation and boosted quality of life that comes with it. “This means visitors and tourism create a positive economic impact for Sampson County. The economic impact of tourism is vital to our local community.”
The new visitor’s guide, printed last week, was paid for solely by ad sales. The last guide was completed in 2012. Guides usually have a shelf life of 15-18 months, Barefoot noted.
“We have distributed them to all of the nine North Carolina welcome centers and they will be placed in the rack cards around the county,” she said, referring to the glossy cards that market individual businesses and attractions within hotel lobbies and other frequently trafficked areas.
Similarly, she said having a revamped and constantly updated website was critical. It is currently populated by information from industry partners using Destination 3000 software.
“It’s very crucial we have an up-and-running and good website,” she said. “It’s more important than ever the CVB have a robust website. In the coming months I will be strategically working to enhance our website. I want to add new images, fine-tune our site and make it more visitor-friendly. I want to make sure our industry partners’ information and images are up to date also, so visitors can see exactly what Sampson County has to offer.”
One of those attractions, the Barn Quilt Trail, began in January 2015. It currently consists of 40 quilts located across the county, with plans to expand that. While the trail is highlighted in the new visitor’s guide, Barefoot said she plans to develop a guide specifically for the quilt trail, showing each location and a description of each.
Barefoot said there are 345 industry partners in Sampson. She wants to create a new marketing plan, exploring opportunities for creating day trips or planning two-day festivals, attracting events and conferences that will utilize the Agri-Expo Center and developing partnerships with CVBs in other counties.
In October, Sampson will play host to Cycle NC “Mountains to Coast” Tour, a 7-day bicycle tour spanning the state that includes well over 1,000 cyclists as well as support teams. The tour will have a one-night stop in Sampson — requiring more than 150 rooms along with 400-500 campers, Barefoot said.
“The economic impact for lodging alone is estimated to exceed $15,000 for that one night,” Barefoot said. “We will work with area restaurants, attractions, lodging providers and other businesses and we’ll have bus routes established for an 18-hour period of time moving people throughout the community. I’m very excited for this opportunity for the county.”
Other opportunities will continue to be sought, Barefoot attested.
“Balancing the cost and benefits of tourism,” she said, “is essential to the preservation and quality of life in Sampson County.”
Barefoot can be reached by contacting the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 910-592-2557 or via email at [email protected]
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.