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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Tourism Director Celebrates 20 Years with JCVB

Tourism Director Celebrates 20 Years with JCVB

Donna Bailey-Taylor, Director of the Johnston County Tourism Authority, recently celebrated 20 years in her position. I sat down to ask her a few questions about how Johnston County's tourism industry has grown over the two decades since she started working to bring tourists to JoCo. I also asked about her experience in the Travel Tourism industry and what she thinks the future holds for tourism in Johnston County.

You’ve been at the JCVB for 20 years, but how long have you worked in the Travel and Tourism industry?

So all together I have been in the hospitality industry for thirty-five years. I began my career working in the hotel industry, first in sales for Hilton Hotels and later working for hotel development companies in regional sales and marketing.  I have opened hotels from the ground up and traveled extensively to support sales efforts for multiple brands.

As I started a family, the need to get off the road was important to me, so I transitioned to work for a convention and visitors bureau.  Since I was used to promoting whole communities and selling experiences, the move was a natural fit for me.  

What drew you to this industry?

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in Industrial Relations, the jobs available to me all seemed to be in manufacturing or banking.  Also, it was 1981 and the unemployment rate was 22% in North Carolina.  I tried hotel sales and found out I was good at it!  I discovered I enjoyed meeting people and providing a service.  

What keeps you in this industry?

The variety of tasks each day continues to make my job rich and enjoyable.  From designing the next ad campaign or revamping the Visitors Guide, then community planning for new wayfinding signage or working with area museum boards to provide engaging visitor experiences….it’s diverse and ever changing.  I don’t think I could do the same task day in and day out.  

What has changed in tourism for Johnston County over the course of 2 decades?

With Johnston County being one of the fastest growing counties, not only in North Carolina but in the nation, tourism has grown fast as well.  When I started here in August of 1996, our annual operating budget was around $325,000 and today it tops $1.2 million.  Tourism marketing today has changed tremendously with the creation of social media, hand-held marketing devices we call mobile phones, and the niche marketing campaigns needed to reach the right customer, at the right time, with the right message.  

I would have to say 20 years ago, having billboards and a visitors guide were our primary goals, and today our marketing plan targets leisure travelers, sports tournaments, girlfriend shopping get-a-ways, and culinary travelers with the development of the Beer, Wine and Shine Trail.

What challenges do rural destinations face in marketing themselves?

Funding and staffing resources are often the first challenges because there never seems to be enough of either in small Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs).  And second, getting the attention of community leaders, state offices and residents on the importance of tourism to the community.  Our industry is made up of small businesses, but collectively visitor spending in hotels, restaurants, travel services, dining, shopping and area attractions is huge…it’s a big deal and in some rural communities it may have the potential to be their number one industry.

What have you accomplished at the JCVB that you’re particularly proud of?

Tourism development projects where our staff has volunteered countless hours helping to establish the Ava Gardner Museum, the Benson Museum of Local History, marketing for the Bentonville re-enactment, completing the county-wide Parks & Recreation Master Plan, and serving on many boards to lend our talents to the tourism industry…I feel this has been a grass-roots effort to build up the tourism infrastructure in the county.  You don’t see that commitment in many bureaus, who only see their job as driving visitors to the area.  In an emerging destination, building up the visitor experience is so important.  We want to be more than a stop-over on the way to some other destination – and more than “half-way between New York and Florida”.  

What would you like to accomplish still?

I would like to see the completion of the Mountains to Sea Trail between the towns of Clayton and Smithfield and the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site get a new state of the art Visitor Center with new exhibits, something the Friends of Bentonville group has been working on for many years.  

Also, I would like to see the Visitors Bureau secure a permanent home for our offices, as we have been renting space for more than 25 years.

You have family roots in the Benson area, what does working to promote Johnston County mean to you?

To me, this job is more than working to promote Johnston County – my heart is full of wonderful memories spent on the Bailey Farm just outside of Benson.  I feel we need to work toward preserving our heritage, whether it be farming, Civil War battlefields, or our connection to Hollywood.  That’s why over 12 years ago, we held classes on agri-tourism as a way to sustain the family farm and bring revenues to area farmers.  That’s why I continue to volunteer my time and talents to area non-profits.

I believe if we all work together we will all succeed!

How does tourism positively effect residents in Johnston County?

Tourism means dollars for small business owners – in 2015 more than $215 million was spent in Johnston County by visitors.  If the county did not have a strong tourism economy we would not have national brand shopping at our fingertips at Carolina Premium Outlets and dining opportunities like Starbucks, or Chipotle’s which just opened in Smithfield this year.

But just as important to us is showcasing local, independent business owners like Ray Wheeler at Atkinson’s Mill, Rufus Brown at Johnston County Hams and many others that have wonderful stories to tell. Visitors are interested in authenticity and we have plenty to share with them in Johnston County.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

Something creative is my first choice…painting, pottery, and photography to name a few.  Watching movies with my son Trey and reading detective novels on my IPAD.  Nothing fancy… for me, spending time with family is just a perfect day!  

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Benson Announces Hampton Plans

Benson Announces Hampton Plans

It was announced yesterday in a press conference that Benson is getting a hotel right off of I-95 at Exit 79. The news is being received enthusiastically by the community, in part due to the boost it will bring in economic vitality but also because the town and surrounding area are in need of additional accommodation options. Adam Leath, representing the hotel developer Leath Co LLC, and Benson Mayor William Massengill discussed the project at the press conference before revealing that the hotel would fly under the Hampton Inn flag and also presenting building plans to the public.

Leath spoke to the project as something that the town and the county could be proud of, which Massengill echoed had become something of a measurement for Benson's community projects in the last few years, " we want to ask of ourselves, not simply will this project benefit the town, but will it be something that community leaders and members can be proud of."

If the design and atmosphere of the hotel discussed are anything to go by, it will certainly be a contributing addition to the Benson community and the group of hotels that welcome travelers all over Johnston County. The Hampton Inn in Benson is designed for families, tourists, and corporate travelers alike. The 88-room hotel will deliver an atmosphere for a comfortable work environment and a restful stay - including 8 suites, free Wi-Fi in public areas, free in-room high-speed internet access, a clean and fresh Hampton bed®, Hampton’s free hot breakfast, flat screen televisions, complimentary beverage areas, guest laundry, elevators, a fitness center, and an outdoor heated pool.

 The hotel will also offer accessible and pet-friendly rooms with plans already approved by the NC Department of Transportation to install a free-range dog park directly across from the hotel. In addition the hotel features a 1,000 sq. ft. conference center with the latest audio-visual technology and media equipment.

We here at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau are excited about the added room availability that the Hampton will add to our county and the Benson area. Building the Hampton Inn in Benson means it is located less than 20 minutes from Campbell University, 45 minutes from Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU), and 25 minutes from the Johnston County Airport. In addition, as readers of this blog know, Benson has been growing its tourism assets this year thanks to the continued growth of Broadslab Distillery and the opening of GALOT Motorsports Park - both located less than 5 miles from the new hotel site. In fact, 2015 statistics show that 19 million new dollars in private investment went into Benson last year.

During the press conference Mayor Massengill spoke to this growth and the hotel announcement as proof that Benson's leaders and citizens are working to develop Benson into an attractive place to live and visit, "this project is proof of what happens when the private sector, government, and non-profits work together." Adam Leath said that the Leath company, " looks forward to the partnership with Benson and providing a service that is needed in the community." The company anticipates breaking ground in November of 2016 and hopes to open to guests in Fall of 2017.

The news to build a Hampton Inn in Benson comes on the heels of the grand opening of the Country Inn & Suites in Smithfield and proves that Johnston County continues to grow as a tourism destination in North Carolina and along the I-95 corridor. The continued development of Johnston County's economic development and tourism assets means better options for travelers and prosperity for community members.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page and the Visit Benson website for updates on this project as they become available.

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Johnston County Celebrates National Travel and Tourism Week

Johnston County Celebrates National Travel and Tourism Week



Starting on Monday, and throughout next week, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) will be participating in several events as part of the 33rd Annual National Travel and Tourism Week (May 1-7), which unites communities each year to celebrate what travel means to American jobs, economic growth, and personal well-being.  You will see posts on the JCVB social media about what the travel industry means to America, to North Carolina, to Johnston County, and even to you (yes, you).

According to the US Travel Association, "National Travel and Tourism Week—America's annual salute to travel and tourism—was established by a congressional resolution in 1983. This week of events serves to champion the power of our industry. Travel and tourism professionals from across the nation work throughout the week to promote the impactful contributions their travel markets and organizations make to the US economy."


Celebrating Travel by Encouraging Travel


Each year the JCVB sales teams travels to the NC Welcome Centers at I-95 North and South to interact with visitors showcasing local Johnston County products, hotels, dining and attractions. Talking with visitors as they try locally grown strawberries from Smith's Nursery and Strawberry Farm, or learning about the opening of GALOT Motorsports Park near Benson, the JCVB sales team and industry partners will see more than 700 travelers at the welcome centers on May 5 and 6. Always a treat for visitors is meeting Ray Wheeler from Atkinson's Mill and finding out what a "hush puppy" is, and children love the reptiles brought by Clemmons Educational State Forest in Clayton.  It's a fun day for everyone attending as we showcase all our destinations have to offer.


What Does Travel Mean for Johnston County


Across Johnston County, travel employs a prosperous and diverse workforce, from hotel employees, to restaurant, attraction and retail workers, and supports related sectors such as construction, manufacturing and finance.  “Just look at the numbers. Travel supports one in nine American jobs, including more than 1,700 jobs right here in Johnston County,” said Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO, Johnston County Visitors Bureau. “This week, we are celebrating what travel means to our community, and we call on everyone—from elected officials to local residents—to join us in saluting this important industry.”

Here are some of the 2014 tourism impact numbers from the Economic Development Partnership of NC (also known as VisitNC):

•    The travel and tourism industry directly employs more than 1,700 people in Johnston County
•    Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Johnston County was $32.24 million
•    State tax revenue generated in Johnston County totaled $11.63 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. Approximately $5.33 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses


What Does Travel Mean for You


"If not for the $16.96 million in state and local taxes paid by tourists visiting Johnston County, each of the 60,700 county households would pay $282 more in taxes to replace the taxes generated by tourism spending," remarked Bailey-Taylor.  "Tourism has a direct impact for all citizens of Johnston County, thanks to the many visitors traveling through the county along interstates 95, 40 and 70 choosing our destinations for accommodations, shopping, dining, meetings, recreation, and visiting area attractions. Johnston County is primarily a leisure destination and our mission at the Visitor Bureau is not only to serve visitors as they travel on to final destinations, but to create and market hotel packages, festivals, trails and special itineraries to encourage weekend leisure trips and for travelers to select our destination over our competitors."  

So how does this all work you might ask. In most cities and counties the tourism authority is granted an operating budget out of the occupancy tax taken when visitors to the area stay at local hotels. In this way, the tourism authority funds itself; not by taking any money from the citizens of the municipality in which it resides but by taking a percentage of the money that it works to bring into the county. The purpose of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau is to advertise outside the county to attract visitors into the county who will pay an occupancy tax that goes to further fund more advertising to bring more visitors into the county - and so on, like a snowball. But those visitors also pay a sales tax when they visit - to purchase things like food, gas, and souvenirs - which helps local government provide services.

In return, when a Johnston County resident travels to another county, state, or country as a tourist, they pay taxes there that fund continued tourism and prosperity in that destination. Travel then, becomes a cyclical act that we all participate in and gain from. Watch the video below, created by the US Travel Association in celebration of this year's National Travel and Tourism Week.


To learn more about National Travel and Tourism Week 2016 visit the US Travel Association site, or please visit our event page online at: www.johnstoncountync.org/NTW.

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Meeting Expectations in Johnston County

Meeting Expectations in Johnston County

Let Johnston County Host Your Next Meeting

Last week on the blog, I discussed getting married in Johnston County. I'd like to segway that topic into a related one... groups. For many of the same The Clayton Centerreasons JoCo excels as a wedding destination, we also offer robust venue, dining, transportation, and fun break-out options for groups. This includes wedding guests, family reunions, motorcoach and tour groups, corporate meetings and events, as well as sports tournaments.

To find the perfect space for your group, read through our meetings and facilities guide. Selecting your venue is important to more than brides. Find venues that range in size and amenities offered. You can also look into unique venue options like wineries, breweries, and even outdoor locations.

For tour operators we have recently created brand new Johnston County itineraries, highlighting the many thematic ways to introduce visitors to the area. Options include craft beverages, history, agritourism, or even shopping. Itineraries can be requested through Sarah Campbell with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919-989-8687.

Adventuring Out of the Meeting Room

Speaking of things to do, that's another excellent reason to select Johnston County for your next trade show, reunion, corporate retreat, or tournament. When your attendees/guests/clients aren't with you, there is plenty of things for them to do. The Carolina Premium Outlets provides multiple branCarolina Premium Outletsd name stores like Coach at excellent prices. Not to mention the many historic downtown areas in the county filled with boutique shops, antique stores, and art galleries. Chef-owned dining establishments offer locally-sourced, southern cuisine. Contact our local restaurants about private rooms for lunches, dinners, or cocktail receptions.

Theaters and museums provide indoor entertainment and historical depictions of Johnston County's agricultural and civil war heritage, as well as highlight our local Hollywood star Ava Gardner. Local wineries, breweries, and distilleries offer tours and tastings across the county. In addition, multiple golf courses can provide a needed afternoon break between meetings.

Johnston County also has locals specializing in transportation, catering, musical entertainment, and even performance art that can help you add an extra level of wow to your group events. For help organizing your next event, or if you have a question, again please contact Sarah Campbell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919-989-8687.

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Hospitality Training Program, “Hospitality Heroes” Available October 1st

Be A Hospitality Hero in Johnston County!  Over the last several months, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) has partnered with Johnston Community College’s Small Business Center to develop a hospitality training program named “Hospitality Heroes”.  This training course will be FREE to new and existing tourism industry employees in the county and it will be available October 1, 2010.  The tourism industry employees in hotels, restaurants, retail, attractions, festivals/event planners, meeting venues, and transportation services will be eligible for the training.


“Hospitality Heroes has been designed as a FREE online course for tourism industry employees in the county, which we hope will become a regular part of their employee orientation process,” stated Donna Bailey-Taylor, Executive Director, JCVB. “The Visitors Bureau had tried several different ways to provide customer service training to the tourism industry in the past, with guest speakers, staff presentations, and industry specific programs.”

“This new program is much more assessable for the nearly 4,500 full and part-time tourism industry employees in the county.  We owe JCC a wealth of gratitude for their willingness to partner with us”, continued Bailey-Taylor.  “When we called JCC and pitched this idea, they didn’t hesitate at all, and we just couldn’t have done this without Rosa Andrews and the blackboard technical staff at JCC.”

“Hospitality Heroes” will unify Johnston County’s tourism industry by teaching front line employees about tourism, their local destination, and give helpful tips on customer service.  The course will run every month with enrollment at JCC starting on the 1st of each month.  Enrollment is open until the 25th of each month for the next month’s class, and after enrollment employees will have one 30 days to complete the course.

“JCC is very excited to partner with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau to create Hospitality Heroes for use by the tourism industry in Johnston County. This is an example of using the technology and learning tools of our college to meet a need in the community! I have no doubt that the students in this program will enjoy the learning environment and will enrich their work by participating,” stated Rosa Andrews, Director of Small Business Center and Occupational Licensure, Economic and Workforce Development.

The goals of the Hospitality Heroes course include giving new and existing employees a better understanding of the Visitors Bureau and the organization’s role to promote the county.  They will be provided information about Johnston County’s things to do, places to stay, dining, entertainment, recreation, meeting venues, and the many shopping and outlet opportunities which will help them answer visitor questions when approached on the job.  Just having this basic information and knowing the visitors bureau provides marketing materials like the Visitors Guide, Visitor Maps and the website will help front-line employees do their jobs.

For more general information on the tourism industry, employees will be given facts and figures about national, state and local visitor spending, visitor profiles, and many additional resources to tourism organizations’ websites.  The Johnston County Visitors Bureau partners with and belongs to several of these state and national organizations who conduct national research studies to provide the most up-to-date travel trends.

Through a license agreement with “License to Serve”, a program developed through Destination Marketing Association International, employees will learn basic customer service techniques.  The goals of the customer service module are: to promote a more positive public image, improve internal and external professional relationships and networks, establish an environment of optimum customer service, positively differentiate the organization from competition, and increase the number of new customers and retain current customers.

With course completion, employees will receive a Hospitality Heroes certificate, a gift bag from JCVB, vouchers to local attractions within the county, and an invitation to an annual luncheon during National Tourism Week each May, to be recognized by the community as a tourism ambassador.

To get additional information about the Hospitality Heroes program offered by JCVB in partnership with JCC, and how to get your employees enrolled, contact Amanda Astoske at 919.989.8687 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The mission of the Johnston County Convention & Visitors Bureau is marketing our destinations to visitors, thereby, encouraging utilization of accommodations, retail outlets, restaurants, heritage sites, museums, entertainment and recreation venues for the community’s economic benefit.

www.facebook.com/jocovisitorsbureau

www.twitter.com/JoCoTourism

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

beer wine and shine trail logo

Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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