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New tourism officer prefers regional approach

Corrina Ferguson.jpg

Corrinna Ferguson, shown here Nov, 14, is the Elizabeth City area's new chief tourism officer.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Elizabeth City area's new chief tourism officer says boundary lines are completely invisible in the travel business, so she wants to emphasize a regional approach to attracting tourists and visitors.

"Travelers don't know where the border is between Elizabeth City and Hertford," Corrina Ferguson said. "They're just driving down a beautiful country road, and they get there and they go, 'Oh, look at this cute little town. I can go shopping. I can get something to eat. And then I'll go back to where I'm staying.'"

"So, if we can be regional, it benefits the collective whole," she said.

Ferguson reported for work Oct. 29 at the Elizabeth City Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which markets with the name "Visit Elizabeth City." The office is based on the top floor of Museum of the Albemarle.

Ferguson had been working in Virginia as director of the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee. She also has prior experience promoting tourism in New England.

In the Harbor of Hospitality, Ferguson filled a position that came open after Christina Rehklau left to become director of the tourism agency in Corvallis, Oregon.

In an interview Wednesday, Ferguson described her experience so far in Elizabeth City as “a whirlwind." Asked what she has found out that she didn't know before reporting to work, she said she didn't know there's as much rich history here.

"It will take me a little bit to learn more about that," she said.

Additionally, she’s noticed "the incredible passion" people have for the community.

"People have just been beyond welcoming and kind and open and truly passionate about the Elizabeth City area – and it's nothing I've ever experienced before," she said.

She’s found that there are people who have visited Elizabeth City on a whim and ended up staying and opening up a successful business. And, there are people who came to Elizabeth City and initially said, "Get me out of here" and a year later had a 180-degree change of heart and some 30 years later are still here and still opening businesses.

"It's a really cool thing to see," she said.

Looking ahead at her goals, she’s ready to put her stamp on marketing the area.

"I'm definitely, at least in the marketing world, not a fan of well, 'We should continue to do X because we've always done it that way.' The world changes, consumers change, technology changes. We have to change, too," he said.

"I'm still wrapping my head around what we have done and the budget, which is obviously a big factor in flexibility in proposing new programs," she said.

She said she wants to develop an overarching marketing strategy that's not just for the Elizabeth City Area CVB, but one that could perhaps be effective for the entire community.

"And I say that because one of the many charms of Elizabeth City is it is a small community," she said.

At the same time, she said, "That also makes it difficult because in a small community, everybody has their own thing that they want to do, but we're going to be significantly more successful if we work together because we are so small."

"So, if we could have one marketing strategy that applies to the community – and perhaps businesses and other entities within can align their messaging with it as well – then we're all consistent, we're all speaking from one voice and it just amplifies our messaging," she said.

Ferguson also said she sees new things that are happening or about to happen.

They include the proposed transformation of the old Weatherly Candy Factory location into loft apartments, the opening of Ghost Harbor Brewing, the opening of the Mills Downtown Bistro and Seven Sounds Brewing possibly opening in the spring of 2019.

"So, in a year, I think we're going to be completely revamping our messaging and our marketing materials and driving more visitors here because there is more to do, more to see, more local cuisine to taste."

"All of those things build on each other," she said.

Ferguson said she has spent the majority of her first few weeks on the job getting to know community leaders and partners in the Elizabeth City area and meeting them at their locations.

She said she had an appointment with Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center Director Donna Stewart in northern Camden County. She also said she plans to meet with her other tourism promotion counterparts throughout the rest of the Albemarle.

"It's key, but I'm immersing myself in meeting the people, learning about them, learning their strengths, their passions, because that's ultimately how we'll be able to work together and visiting places as I do so," she said.

She has a long list of those to see and places to go, saying, "I've actually never been to the Outer Banks yet."

Ferguson has a staff of three persons. Susan Hartley is the administrative assistant, Liza Franco is the web page content and social media coordinator and Carrie Barker is the contact for events.

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