The pandemic is forcing a lot of thinking outside the box. That includes attracting visitors to the mountains.
Haywood County has a different marketing strategy under way right now, and it’s working.
During the pandemic the Visitors Center is promoting an "Embrace Unusual" campaign, letting folks know they can come to a place like this and enjoy the great outdoors and still keep a lot of social distance.
The marketing video says "Ditch the fake, zoom background. Embrace unusual.”
Annette and Tim Leroux made the trek from the Carolina coast. "Not hibernating,” says Annette.
They say there’s plenty to enjoy in the mountains.
“The Fall, the leaves, the scenery, hiking,” says Annette. “And it's my wife's birthday tomorrow,” Tim says.
“We have our little cabin that we rent that was very clean. We're doing, we're wearing our masks and eating outside when we can,” Annette says.
Tourism leaders say this area works as an escape on many fronts.
“Wide open spaces, if you're working remotely or if you're E-learning, what better place to do that than in the mountains of North Carolina?” says Ashley Rice, with the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority "We're looking to reach people who might not have thought about us or thought about the concept of coming here, socially distancing yourself and working remotely.”
The mountains are billed as a drive-able destination for many in surrounding states, even Florida.
“We're also seeing atypical people from Texas, Alabama and New York,” says Rice.
Rice say pandemic protocols are in place.
“Making people feel secure in this location is definitely a plus,” she says.
“You go online, everything is 'Hey, we're friendly, we're clean. Come on, everybody's been great,” says Kevin Aronhalt, visiting with his wife from Georgia.
The Aronhalt’s are here celebrating an anniversary.
“We're doing our part wearing our masks and keeping our distance. There's no reason you can't enjoy all this,” says Kevin.
Summer visitation numbers are good, and August numbers are better than last summer.
“It's definitely something we didn't predict or see coming,” Rice says.
There is now an expectation that fall numbers will set records.
“We do have a good feeling about it,” says Rice.
The Town of Maggie Valley erected a giant "Ski Town” sign that will light up soon. Rice says the reconfiguration of travel bodes well for the Cataloochee ski area.
“Having reservations about flying, they're anticipating a good year with people driving, doing more driving for skiing versus flying for skiing.
Tourism leaders say they'll keep the 'Embrace Unusual' campaign going right through the winter and spring.