As the Fourth of July approaches and summer starts to heat up, so does summer travel. In the Carolinas that often means trips to the beach. But the Carolina beaches are popular with more than just those who live here. Travelers from all over the east migrate across our state in search of a restful and relaxing time in our sand and surf.
Since the beaches are so important to the tourism business in North Carolina, considerable research has been conducted by the North Carolina Department of Tourism to study travel habits and plans of vacationers. Given my association with the folks in Raleigh, I’ve been fortunate to help manage many of these research efforts, traveling across the Eastern United States attending and moderating focus groups and interviews with vacationers.
Two main points always come out of the studies.
First, we are creatures of habit when it comes to our vacations. We tend to go to the same locales year after year, often to the same rental home or hotel. And these “habit holidays” are not honed as adults, but learned from our childhood. If you went to the beach on vacation as a child, you are highly likely to continue to vacation as an adult at the beach with your children. Depending on where you move, it may not be the same beach as when you were young, but it will be at the surf and sea. If you went to the mountains, that is where you often continue as an adult.
Second, beach vacations are almost always “drive vacations.” We may fly to a golf vacation, or to a “metro getaway,” but beach means drive. Perhaps it’s all the chairs, umbrellas and toys we bring, or maybe we just want our car to collect all that sand, but beach travelers are drivers. Because they drive, we can easily track where they come from. When vacationing, travelers tend to follow two rules of the road: No.1, they take major highways whenever possible, and No. 2, they will sacrifice a little bit of time to stick to rule No. 1.
Therefore, when monitoring beach traffic to the Carolinas, you will find that visitors from eastern West Virginia, Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania tend to go to the Outer Banks when visiting our beaches. Whereas, residents of Ohio, the Pittsburgh area and the Charleston/Morganton areas of West Virginia tend to come to the Wilmington and Myrtle Beach areas.
Why? The N.C. 77 – U.S. 74 feeder route leads right to the beach. And of course, Laurinburg is right along that route, and an important part of it. Vacationers coming to the beach are often renting for a week. The rentals start on Saturday. So travelers coming down from Ohio or Pittsburgh want to get close enough to the beach so they can get up, drive a short distance and check-in. Laurinburg, being two hours out, provides that stop.
Given this opportunity, we at the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) have invested in an online advertising campaign in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and the Charleston/Morganton areas. Focusing on TripAdvisor, every time someone in those cities/areas does a search for vacation rentals or hotels in the Wilmington, Myrtle Beach area, an ad for our hotels in Laurinburg will greet them. Additionally, if they search for hotels on U.S. 74, we’ll be there. The result, over 250,000 impressions will be delivered in those markets — 250,000 sets of eyeballs searching for a beach trip will be introduced to Laurinburg and Scotland County. And remember, we are creatures of habit. Once we can get to vacationers, these are travelers who will come by year after year.
This campaign, coupled with the marketing we do in partnership with the NC tourism web site and promotion program allows Laurinburg to break through the clutter of marketing and advertising that bombards tourists. We don’t want to talk to everyone who comes into North Carolina, we only want to greet those who are going to be passing by our town.
As we have discussed in the past, U.S. 74 is a lifeline for our community. It brings travelers from near and far to our shops, restaurants and hotels. It is because of these visitors that the TDA was so interested in partnering with the city, the county and the DOT to install the lights along our exits. There are over 50 businesses and 1,000 employees who benefit from our ability to pull travelers off the highway.
This campaign will help introduce travelers to Laurinburg and get them to plan a stop. The lights will greet them, and our community, businesses and residents will benefit from this effort to help travelers Target Laurinburg/Scotland County.
Cory Hughes is executive director of Scotland County Tourism Development Authority.