10/27/10 — Duplin tourism director to focus on agritourism, pride

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Duplin tourism director to focus on agritourism, pride

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 27, 2010 2:01 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Agritourism and a sense of pride are two of the things Duplin County Tourism Director Kristina Ayres hopes to support as she settles into her new job.

Mrs. Ayres stepped into the position in Duplin County this summer and ever since has been occupied with surveying the county's resources.

"You can't sell it if you haven't seen it" is her motto, she said. Mrs. Ayres has also been working with the Duplin Rotary, local Chamber of Commerce officials and local businesses to canvass the opportunities for tourism promotion.

Agritourism could be a major boost to the county, although it's something many locals may not think of as the kind of activity people would want to do when they're on vacation, Mrs. Ayres said. But picking your own strawberries or enjoying a day on a farm might be the exact kind of vacation someone from a large city might hope for.

"People want to experience something new, they want to walk away different," she said.

The historic value of many county locations, such as Liberty Hall in Kenansville and the Veterans' Museum in Warsaw, also hold untapped potential that Mrs. Ayres hopes to promote to guests. Several area wineries, including the Duplin Winery and the "up and coming" Country Squire winery, compliment each other nicely by offering different varieties of locally-produced wines, Mrs. Ayres said.

But one major challenge will be to get everyone in the county on the same page and supporting their county when talking with visitors. Showing a sense of pride in your community is a major draw for tourists, but if locals speak negatively about the place they live, it can negatively affect tourism, Mrs. Ayres said.

"There's something here to be proud of," she said.

Tourism brought in about $31.71 million to Duplin County in 2008-09, according to U.S. Travel Association statistics. That was a negative change of 7.4 percent from the year before, but tourists' dollars still accounted for about $3.86 million in local payroll.

Supporting tourism supports local jobs, but it has an even greater impact on the county long-range. When a business comes in to a county looking to relocate or expand, the officials are visitors before they're client, Mrs. Ayres pointed out.

Although the Duplin Events Center is run separately by another board, the county's tourism board of directors plans to meet and work closely with the Duplin Events Center director and the county commissioners, Mrs. Ayres said. The three governing boards are planning to meet later this week to update the status of the facility and plan for its future.

The facility is one of many resources at the tourism director's disposal when promoting the county, but the county as a whole is also her concern, Mrs. Ayres said.

The county's location, with easy access from Interstate 40 and other highways also add to the promise of future growth.

"We're in a really nice position," she said, adding that she is "really excited" about the county's potential as a tourism hot spot in Eastern North Carolina.

Mrs. Ayres earned her degree in tourism and hospitality from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She completed a practicum at a North Carolina vineyard and an internship at Visit Winston-Salem before joining the Winston-Salem staff full-time. She came to work in Duplin County in August.