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Learn from the experts: Tourism conference to focus on festival success

Tourism is a huge topic with a major impact on Western North Carolina’s economy.

Western Carolina University will host the second annual Tourism Conference next week to focus on one major aspect of the tourism industry — festivals and events.

Steve Morse, director of the hospitality and tourism management program at WCU, said the conference hopes to accomplish three things: allow WCU to engage with the communities it serves; provide WCU students majoring in hospitality and tourism real hands-on experience; and give those students a final product they can show employers when they graduate.

Morse said his students gather and compile all the tourism fact sheets for the tourism leaders in the region. Those facts on the impact of tourism are vital tools tourism leaders can use when going after funding and planning a marketing strategy.

“I’ll go over the fact sheets at the conference and teach them how to use the numbers,” Morse said. 

More than 150 tourism professionals from 26 counties attended the inaugural tourism conference held at WCU last year, and this year attendance is expected to double, which is why the event will be held in the Ramsey Center this year. 

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While the first conference took a broad look at the industry, Morse said attendees wanted to dig into more details of one particular issue. 

This year’s conference will focus only on the impact festivals and events can have on local economies in Western North Carolina. Morse already has a topic ready for next year — how to make your community an outdoors adventure destination.   

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, will be attending the conference for a second year and said she is looking forward to the focus on festivals. 

“It’s always helpful to learn as much as we can and bring back information and apply it to what’s happening here in Haywood,” she said. 

Morse said WCU was fortunate to have an extraordinary lineup of tourism experts in the region coming to the conference to cover a number of interesting topics. 

Melissa Porter, who ran Bele Chere in Asheville for many years, will be giving tips on how to obtain and keep financial sponsors and community volunteers, and Dr. Mary Morse will be sharing tips on how to get the right craft and food vendors for a festival. 

Chris Cavanaugh, president of Magellan Strategy Group in Asheville, will tell tourism leaders how to make their festivals authentic and reflective of the community. 

During lunch, Wit Tuttle, the executive director of the Division of Tourism in Raleigh, will give everyone an update on how the state is marketing Western North Carolina as a destination. 

Morse said one of the most entertaining sessions would be “The Top 7 Ways to Make Your Festival or Event a Failure.” John Whisenant, executive director of Tourism and Events for the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association in Nashville, will present the workshop. 

The last 30 minutes of the conference will give tourism professionals an opportunity to talk to WCU hospitality students looking for an internship. 

Conference registration costs $149. Register at edoutreach/conted/profdev/ TourismConference.asp.



Conference agenda

Monday, April 20

• 5-7:30 p.m. — Wine and beer reception overlooking the Tuckasegee River.  Best Western Hotel, Dillsboro.

Tuesday, April 21

• 8-8:45 a.m. — Registration

• 8:45-9 a.m. — Welcome, introductions, overview of conference 

• 9-9:45 a.m. — Tourism Economic Fact Sheets (Steve Morse & WCU students)

• 9:45-10 a.m. — Break

• 10-11 a.m. — Festival and Events 101: Essential elements of planning a successful festival or event

• 11-11:15 a.m. — Break

• 11:15 a.m.-noon — Concurrent breakout sessions (choose one session)

Session 1: Secrets to getting and keeping financial sponsors and community volunteers for festivals and events

Session 2: Success with food and craft vendors at festivals and events 

Session 3: Choosing a festival or event theme and marketing strategy to reflect your local community’s authenticity and unique sense of place 

• Noon – 1:15 p.m. — Lunch served on site and an update on North Carolina tourism from Raleigh

Smoky Mountain Host (Betty Huskins)

Blue Ridge Mountain Host (Pepper Parris) 

High Country Host (Candice Cook)

• 1:15 – 1:30 p.m. — Break (15 min)

• 1:30 – 2:15 p.m. — Repeat of concurrent breakout sessions (choose one session)

• 2:15 – 2:30 p.m. — Break

• 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. — The top 7 ways to make your festival or event a failure. 

• 3:30 – 3:45 p.m. — Break

• 3:45 – 4:15 p.m. — Meet and find a WCU Hospitality and Tourism student looking for an internship.

• 4:30 p.m. — Conference Ends

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