07/08/07 — Duplin ponders how to 'package' attractions

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Duplin ponders how to 'package' attractions

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 8, 2007 2:01 AM

Hungry? The Duplin County Tourism Development Authority says it has plenty of good restaurants to offer. Looking for a cool historical site to tour? They have visitors covered there, too.

The problem, though, county tourism director Rob Wells said, is packaging those attractions, whether for individuals or for group tours, and getting that information out to people.

Of course, he continued, had members not already gone to the effort of commissioning a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis before the authority was officially chartered on July 1, they likely would not know those things.

"We will make a lot fewer mistakes with some guidance instead of trying to figure everything out for ourselves," authority chairman Jim Harris said. "The reason for this assessment was so we don't waste time tripping over our toes."

And while they haven't had time yet to fully digest the study's results, he continued, they know they now have a road map for what they need to do to market the county.

"We just got the report and we've read it, but we need to go back and read it a couple more times. We've got an idea of where we think we want to go," Harris said. "I think it's laid out the path we should take."

Some of what the report came back and said verified what they already knew -- that Duplin has a strong opportunity for agri-tourism, a growing draw in the Events Center, quality historical and cultural sites like Liberty Hall in Kenansville and the Veterans Museum in Warsaw, and popular special events like the Muscadine Festival.

They also knew that one of the county's biggest weaknesses is its lack of a centralized visitor's center. To remedy that, Wells said he would like to see a central building with not only brochures and maps, but also restrooms and other public amenities.

"It can be the front porch of the county and it's something we're going to have to deal with," Wells said.

Along with that, he continued, another recognized Duplin weakness is a lack of marketing, advertisement and awareness of what the rural county has to offer. He also noted that it's important for people realize that Duplin can't, and doesn't have to, compete directly with nearby destinations like Wilmington. They just need people to visit.

"That's one of the biggest problems we have. We just don't have enough out there right now," Harris said. "It's one thing for people to stop off the interstate and go to McDonald's or Wendy's or someplace, but we want them to come further into the county and find out what we really have."

But other things surprised the authority's members -- like the fact that one of Duplin's strengths is its tasty culinary resources.

"I don't think we realized we had an asset like that," Harris said.

He and others also were surprised at one of the county's weaknesses -- the feeling that many roads are hard to navigate and tourist attractions are difficult to find.

Still, Harris continued, he thinks they're in a better position now to improve Duplin's tourism opportunities than they were four or five months ago when the authority was put together in an informal form.

The organization became official on July 1. It will meet the second Monday of every month in the old emergency services building at 114 East Hill Street.

The next step, Harris said, is to bring other community and business leaders and government officials into figuring out how to best to take advantage of the study's results .

"We just need to get them involved and create a sense of working together. I think (the study) was a good investment. I feel like we are on the right track," he said.