Episode 115

Looking Ahead to 2021 In Wilkesboro, NCThomas Salley

About Our Guest

Thomas Salley

Thomas Salley, Director of the Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, joins this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast to talk about what it's like to run a small DMO. Listen to learn about how his destination has navigated this turbulent year, as well as how an increased focus on content creation has helped his destination prepare for the future.

"We've got breweries, we've got wineries, we've got mountain biking trails, but so does everybody else. What they don't have, is the unique people and the unique stories that come with those people — why they're here, how they landed here, and what they think is special about the community. Those are things that you can't replicate at other destinations. Those are the kind of stories that we try to tell." -Thomas Salley

Episode Highlights

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Thomas Salley
  • Position: Director of the Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority
  • Favorite Destination: South America
  • Dream Destination: Normandy

“Looking Ahead to 2021 in Wilkesboro, NC” – Show Notes and Highlights

 

Show Highlights:

  • Wilkesboro is the county seat of Wilkes County, North Carolina with 3600 residents, largely rural with beautiful outdoor destinations. Home of Moonshine and NASCAR. A unique destination with a lot to offer.
  • Lessons from the 2020 pandemic:
  • Shortening a timeline for execution of implementing plans and ideas.
  • Flexibility.
  • Eliminating advertising ad content that doesn’t add value for the visitor.
  • 2020 Wilkesboro DMO budget was focused on developing and promoting the outdoor economy. 
  • 2021 focus is to create fresh content.
  • Types of content on the roadmap:
  • Disc golf course in North Carolina
  • Downtown pictures
  • Underutilized outdoor spaces
  • Wilkesboro leverages their DMO jobs to local service providers.
  • Thomas shares that negotiation is important to evaluate the best options in difficult decisions for 2021. 
  • Thomas advises small DMO teams to evaluate time, cost, equipment, and collaborate with other DMOs. Always hustle, try to observe. think and plan the next steps.

 

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

Episode Transcript

Thomas Salley: [00:00:00] You know, we’ve got breweries, we’ve got wineries, we’ve got mountain bike trails, but so does everybody else. But what they don’t have is, they don’t have the unique people and the unique stories that come with those people and why they’re here, how they landed here. What they think is special about the community. Those were things that you can’t replicate in other destinations. So, those are the kind of stories that we try to tell. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:00:20] Hello, everyone. And welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Stoker. We’ve got another great show for you today. We’ve got Thomas Salley, and he is the Director of the Wilkesboro Tourism Authority in North Carolina. Thomas, welcome to the show.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:00:36] Thanks for having me, Adam. It’s a pleasure.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:00:39] Yeah, we’re excited to have you. And we’ve got a great conversation today. Before we dive in, though, we’ve got these ice breaker questions that we like to ask, and I want to get your take. If you could go anywhere in the world, Thomas, where would it be? 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:00:51] Well, I’m a big history nerd, so, the one place that I’ve always wanted to go is Normandy. I just think that it’s such a profound location and just the immense battle that took place there and the struggle that sort of shaped our present environment, I just think that’s really cool and pay respects to the people who fought and died there and who served in that battle.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:01:13] Yeah, that’s a unique answer. And one we haven’t had on the show yet, and I’ve got to imagine that that would be a little bit of an eerie place to visit. There’s so much pain that happened on that beach, right? It would be kind of a surreal place to visit. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:01:30] Yeah, I think so, too. And I think it’s important for us to just be grounded and know who we are. And just always be respectful of others that came before us and leave the world a better place for those that come after us. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:01:42] Absolutely. Okay. So, I’m already hearing history is a big part of why you like to travel. If you were to go to Normandy, what other stops would you make along the way?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:01:54] So, there’s the trip that I’ve been looking at was, I’m struggling with the author’s name now, but the guy who wrote Band of Brothers, and he wrote a book about D Day. He has a trip that takes you from Normandy Beach all the way to Berlin, and there are guided stops along the way. So, you basically retraced the Allied march from the beaches of Normandy all the way to Berlin. And then you could go down to the Wolf’s Lair, which is Hitler’s, and Berchtesgaden, his mountain retreat, and see that, too. So, I think something like that would be really cool.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:02:30] So, there’s a full itinerary out there then that you would kind of follow.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:02:34] Definitely.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:02:35] Interesting. Okay, that sounds like it would be a fascinating trip to take. I would imagine that when we ask you what your favorite trip you’ve ever been on is that you’re going to have history be a part of that answer. Am I right to think that? 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:02:50] Maybe. I’ll give you, I think, what was my favorite trip. So, I’ve been to South America and I did some mission—

 

Adam Stoker: [00:02:57] What part of South America?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:02:59] So, I’ve been to Peru and Ecuador. So, when we went to Peru, that was from a historical standpoint, Machu Picchu was incredible and just seeing the architecture there. And especially, since that time, how the site has been sort of over tourism has taken up, they had a big impact on that site and they limit the number of guests. I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity.

 

But Ecuador was another interesting one where we went to do some work in the jungles of Ecuador, and we had to get flown in there to basically a dirt landing strip. And I remember, of course, being in the rainforest, it rained. We were there for a couple of days. And to get out, we had to actually go and repair the runway so that it was safe for the plane to land to get us out of there. So, there was kind of this feeling of we might be stuck here for a while, but thankfully, everything worked out. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:03:49] Oh, my goodness. Sounds like quite the trip. I actually spent some time in South America on a church mission as well, and I was in Brazil. So, you’ve been to parts of South America that I haven’t been to. I went to Brazil and maybe we ought to guide each other through the parts we haven’t been to yet. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:04:10] Yeah, I would love to go back. I think it would be fun, especially now that I’m older and have a little bit more understanding of the world. So, let’s do it.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:04:17] Yeah, sounds great. Well, Thomas, it is going to be fun to have you on today. I’ve got a lot of questions for you, but what I’m really working with destinations on right now is the pandemic hit, we’re at nine months ago now, at this point, almost 10. And as we go into 2021, I think we went through all the stages of grief, right? Like, this is happening to us. It’s so awful. We’re never going to recover, right? We had those moments, we had those moments of pain. 

 

But now, as we go into 2021, I think while normal seems like a distant thing, I think we have some sort of a new normal that we’ve settled into and at least have the ability to do some short-term planning, right? So, my question for you is just from a big picture standpoint, how are you taking what you learned in this pandemic in 2020, and using it to improve and help your destination succeed in 2021? 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:05:19] Yeah, that’s a great question. And you’re absolutely right. I think there is a lot of emotions and highs and lows associated with this year. So, I’m relatively new. I started this job in August of 2019 and then was just starting to get my sea legs, and then everything started to happen.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:05:38] Well, do you know what, Thomas? Before we dive in then, let’s get your background. Let’s hear about you and how you got into tourism before we get into the meat of what we’re talking about. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:05:47] Yeah, that’s great. When I went to college, I went to the University of South Carolina, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grow up. So, I took a major in Public Relations because it just seemed like something that was sort of vague, and I could kind of take that in a lot of directions. And then while I was in school, I figured, you know what? I’m going to be selling something, so it might as well be something fun. I didn’t like to drink beer in college. It was one of those things that you go to a college party and there’s a keg or whatever. So, I started getting into wine. 

 

So, we talked earlier about history and geography, wine was something that I could really nerd out. And the place where it’s made and how it’s made really has a lot to do with how it tastes. So, I thought that was really cool. I studied abroad in Italy for six weeks. I lived in Rome. I really learned how wine was part of the lifestyle there and how here in the United States, we have prohibition and just this puritanical view of alcohol, especially in the South. Some of those views still exists. So, that was an interesting cultural phenomenon for me. 

 

When I got out of school, I had heard about the North Carolina wine industry. At the time there were maybe two dozen wineries. So, I think I emailed every one of them. And I had this desire to go live on the West Coast or whatever Northwest, Pacific Northwest, and I emailed a few places out there. Anyway, I got hired by Raffaldini Vineyards in North Carolina, and that was what brought me up here. I worked there for 12 years and manage the tasting room. And some did the marketing and that sort of thing. So, my background has always kind of been in hospitality through college and in high school. I waited tables and managed a movie theater, were just some of my side —

 

Adam Stoker: [00:07:32] Wow. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:07:34] Yeah. So, retail hospitality, those were always part of my tool kit. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because you really get some valuable life skills waiting tables. I think everybody should have to wait tables or wait on people.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:07:51] Especially if you’re going to work in hospitality, right?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:07:53] Absolutely. Yeah. At the winery, when people would come in for a wine tasting, you basically had 15 minutes to earn their trust, get to know them, and then hopefully they buy something from you. Hopefully, they buy lots from you. So, I felt like that was a really valuable skill to pick up. Anyway, after 12 years, I was looking for a change. I have a small family so, I was looking for something that was going to be a little more family friendly, and the opportunity to serve in tourism here in Wilkesboro came up.

 

So, the winery that I worked at was only about 20 minutes from Wilkesboro. I knew the person who had this job previously, and she did a wonderful job and basically [00:08:32] everything up for me. So, when I came over here, it was a turnkey operation. But now, there are a few things that I’d like to do and like to change and move forward, especially after this year. So, I think that might sort of blend back into your question.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:08:46] Yeah, that’s great. And sounds like you’ve got a unique background that led you to where you are today. I’d love to learn about your destination as well. Can you let our audience hear a little bit about Wilkesboro? 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:08:56] Definitely. So, Wilkesboro is the county seat of Wilkes County, North Carolina. So, we’re about an hour, maybe a little over an hour north of Charlotte. And we’re right in between Winston Salem and Boone, North Carolina or the high country. So, a lot of people have heard of Boone and Blowing Rock in that area. It’s a small community. So, Wilkesboro has maybe 3600 residents. The entire county is about 68,000 people. It’s one of the largest counties in North Carolina, so, largely rural. And I say, large as in geographically large. So, very rural. 

 

We have beautiful outdoor destinations, Stone Mountain State Park, W. Kerr, Scott Dam and Reservoir, which is right here in town. Wilkesboro is host to MerleFest, which is probably what we’re best known for. It’s an annual roots plus music festival that takes place in April every year. So, music is a big part of who we are. Bluegrass. 

 

This is the home of Moonshine and NASCAR. So, there’s a lot of history here. Daniel Boone traveled through here, the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Cleveland and his brother Robert Cleveland lived here and over Mountain Victory Trail, which was the path that took the militiamen to Kings Mountain down in Charlotte to fight the British that passed through here. So, there’s a lot of history and culture. When you’re in the mountains, you’re sort of isolated from other parts of civilization, so things get to incubate. So, you have some really unique folk art music stories, that sort of thing.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:10:20] Very cool. Sounds like a unique destination with a lot to offer. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:10:23] Absolutely. It’s a wonderful community, and I couldn’t be prouder to represent it.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:10:27] That’s great. Well, thanks for giving us some context. So, as we go into your answers about your plans for 2021, that really helps us understand kind of who you are and what you’re dealing with as a destination. So, let’s go back. Let’s go back to the stages of grief, right? We touched on that. But as you plan for 2021, what from your experience in 2020, is helping you lead out into 2021?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:10:56] So, one big thing that sticks out to me is certainly shortening a timeline, the timeline for execution whereas in years past, you might take 6,8,12 months to develop and implement something we had. Every day, it was a different challenge. So, I think that working with different stakeholders, different attractions to develop plans and implement ideas, and even if they’re not perfectly honed out. I mean, I was a big fan. In my last job, if we try something, if it doesn’t work, you try something else. So, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

 

And I think something that my buddy Nick said the last podcast was that a lot of times we sit around and wait to make something perfect. I think he’s absolutely right. So, instead of just getting out there and doing something, So, I thought that was really important. And being a small DMO, we have a little bit more flexibility. I’m a one man band, so I’m very fortunate in that regard. And we have a supportive team here that allows us to be flexible, be creative. So, I think that’s going to really be key component to how we do business in 2021.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:12:03] Yeah. You mentioned that you and Nick Breedlove are friends. For those that may not have listened to that episode, he’s from Asheville, North Carolina, and had a great show. And you’re right. His advice of, “Listen, if you’re waiting for every single decision you make or thing you do to be absolutely correct, you’re going to be paralyzed.” Get out and do something. Take a chance. Right? And I think that’s great advice. And it sounds like you’re doing the same thing. 

 

I love what you’re saying about timelines were shortened because I think a lot of us kind of got into the groove of, okay, we’ve got this idea. Maybe that’ll be a great next year initiative. So, let’s do some of the groundwork. And now it’s like, let’s do it next week initiative. That’s a completely different paradigm. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:12:48] Absolutely. And that’s a thing that we suffer from is I’m the Tourism Development Authority, and I come from the private sector but my entity is sort of a government entity. So, nobody expects us to do anything fast. So, I think that sometimes, that sort of stereotype gets cast on us that we may be or not able to evolve quickly or move in a certain way. It’s competitive. I mean, there are a lot of mountain destinations here, and I love the folks that represent other destinations here, and across the state. We’re a big family. But, I mean, there are a lot of people that all  have a lot to offer. And we have to, again, be flexible, be unique to kind of come up with these unique solutions.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:13:30] Yeah. And you mentioned that you’re a one man band. In a lot of cases, I’m sure that could be perceived as a challenge or a weakness. But one thing that allows you to do is when you do have an idea, you know a guy that will approve it and get it rolled out quickly, right? And that’s you. I mean, the ability to have that autonomy to, when you want something done, you can get it done. There’s got to be some value there.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:13:56] Absolutely. And the town staff, and my board, and our tourism partners and attractions, they’re all just amazing to work with. And everybody has a very similar work environment. And they’re a one person show or a small family farm or it’s a small town. So, people get that. And I think that we all have a mutual understanding of what it takes to get business done and to move ahead. And we all kind of thrive off of that.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:14:25] Yes, that’s great. I want to learn more about what you’ve got planned for 2021, especially, we’ll tease out the idea that as a one man show, you probably are operating on a limited budget. So, I want to talk about what you learned about your budget in 2020 and what you’re going to change in 2021. We’ll talk about that when we come back. 

 

Today’s episode is brought to you by Relic. As many of you know, I own an advertising agency called Relic, and we work specifically with tourism destinations. If there’s any of you that are struggling with what to do next or you tried agencies that don’t specialize in tourism or if you’ve been using the local flavor for years and years and you’re just looking for something new, I would say give us a call. Give us the opportunity to take a look at your plan. See what you’re doing. Use our tourism knowledge and industry specialty to examine everything from your brand to your tactical execution and make recommendations of how to help. We’ll do that assessment for free. We’ll give you those recommendations for free. 

 

And if you like what we say, maybe you can hire us to execute on those plans. So, kind of a risk free opportunity to have us take a holistic look at everything you’re doing, provide some recommendations and you kind of see us in action. If you’re interested in having us do something like that, please send me an email directly at adam@relicagency.com I would love to set that up with my team. 

 

So, Thomas, we talked about you’re a one man show. And you’ve got obviously a limited budget if you’re a one person department. So, tell me what you learned about your budget in 2020 and what changes you intend to make in 2021 is a result?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:16:13] Sure, Adam. Well, the first thing, when I started here, it was kind of funny that we, as a community, the town of Wilkesboro and Wilkes County and our neighbor city, North Wilkesboro, and some other local partners, decided to consciously develop and promote our outdoor economy. So, it was kind of funny that this all came up at the end of 2019, and then little do we know 2020 would be the year of the outdoor economy. But I think that is certainly one of our strongest assets. And just the plethora of natural resources and amenities that we have that cater to the outdoor environment. 

 

I think the travel market here is more resilient than other areas. And for that, I’m very grateful. So, our numbers did go down. As you mentioned, we do have a small budget. We have a 3% occupancy tax where a lot of places around have a 6% tax. So, that’s something that we’re hoping to change and hoping to get the county on board with. But Wilkesboro, tourism is not our primary economic driver. There’s a lot of manufacturing here, and there’s a lot of other types of industries here that help to kind of balance that wheel. 

 

When the coronavirus happened, leisure travel largely went away, but we were still getting a lot of business travel because you have these manufacturing facilities that they don’t want to shut down unless there is a dire emergency. So, when this came up and they were having to limit their production, they were starting to do maintenance on their facilities. And we were seeing these technicians and maintenance people come into town and stay in our hotels. Their work can’t be done remotely. So, we were very fortunate for that. 

 

And then we saw, of course, the leisure travel sort of boom that came from gyms being closed and people seeking rural destinations, places that were away from cities and places where they could go hike or spend the night outside or enjoy a glass of wine or beer at a winery or brewery or something. So, we definitely saw a lot of that. And other areas, like the beach or big cities, that didn’t fare as well. Now our number, our highs were not as high, but our lows were not as low. So, I was really pleased with that. 

 

And moving into 2021, we have a lot of content to create. So, I’m hoping to put some fresh content out there. Things are rapidly changing here. The downtown is going through a big redevelopment. Our main street is being redone, and we’ve got brand new sidewalks and buildings going up. A lot of things are changing. So, that’s kind of forcing me to read up on my content a lot more. And every year screens get bigger. It seems like—

 

Adam Stoker: [00:18:54] Go ahead, I’ll let you finish your thought, because I really like one of the things that you said there. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:18:57] Yeah, sure. That was all. I just was going to say every year screens get bigger and therefore my pictures get smaller.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:19:04] Yeah. A content is a really important thing that I feel like, destinations, they don’t have a five-year plan with content. It’s like, okay, let’s sit down at the beginning of the year and let’s look at what content we need right now. But a lot of times, what’s not happening is let’s take a step back. Let’s evaluate all the content we have. What are our gaps, and how do we build a road map to get that all created? So, I love that content is a big focus for you in 2021. That goes for video content. That goes for written content. It goes for itineraries. There’s so much content that could be created that will help someone plan their trip. 

 

But it’s really difficult to tie, return an investment to content. But in a time when the pandemic hit and you couldn’t do your acquisition marketing, at least for a time, content was actually a great way to spend those resources because you’re planning for the future. You’re building for the future. It helps your search engine optimization. It helps your website, just how interesting it is, and engaging it is, right? So, I love the idea of working on content for 2021. What types of content are on your road map?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:20:23] Yeah, that’s a great question, Adam. Thank you. So, when I got here, we had some really wonderful assets, but I was kind of surprised to see that some of our biggest assets, for example, we have the number one ranked disc golf course in North Carolina. And I didn’t really have any pictures or video or anything of that facility at all. So, that was certainly on my priority list. 

 

Same thing with our downtown, we needed pictures of people shopping, people enjoying themselves. We needed pictures of some of our underutilized outdoor spaces. We have our really popular outdoor destinations, but we have some absolutely fantastic outdoor destinations that hardly anybody visits. So, trying to differ visitors to some of these underutilized facilities and kind of spread things out so that everybody has a better experience. That’s another big part of kind of what we have planned.

 

And another example is we have an interesting business here in the community that offers river tubbing. So, instead of taking a tube down the river, you get into a giant steel washtub, and it fits 4 to 6 people, and you can you could try to paddle. It’s more like riding a bowling ball down the river, but it’s basically a river pontoon.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:21:34] Thomas, I got to tell you something funny about that. So, I had the CEO, or excuse me, I think CMO of Nebraska tourism on. And his name was John Ricks. And John introduced me to this concept of tubbing down the river as opposed to rafting down the river. And I had never heard of it before. And now this is the second time that this has showed up on my show. It’s something that I’ve got to explore. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:22:04] We’ll have you guys come out. It’ll be a great team building exercise. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:22:09] I like it.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:22:10] And we’ll see who cannot spill their moonshine on the way down.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:22:14] Sounds great.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:22:16] But you’re absolutely right. And that’s one of those things that every time I mention it, everybody’s eyes, they perk up and they want to hear more about it. And we just need to have more of that bread and butter content that really let’s people know who we are. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:22:30] So, how do you do it? I mean, one man show, I’m sure you have a lot of talents, or you wouldn’t be able to be in your job. But nobody is a writer, video editor, audio engineer, like nobody has all the content talents, right? So, how do you execute on the needs that you have for 2021?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:22:50] Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I want to emphasize to anybody out there that is maybe in a similar position, you’re just starting out or you have a small team, content is very time-intensive, and I’ve found that, even though I’ve attempted to do some of those things in the past, maybe my ideas are not necessarily creative or the startup cost to get the appropriate technology are very high, even though it’s more affordable now than it has been in the past. But the editing process is not glamorous at all. 

 

So, creating that, I find it best to outsource. And we’re very fortunate that we have some wonderful people in our community that have the skill and have the ability to do those types of things. And we have a local filmmaker that just does a wonderful job, and he’s worked on major motion pictures, but he lives right here. We have a writer in town who has written for major publications. And she, basically, is an independent contractor now. She’s a freelance writer. She’s written some blogged post for us. I tell her, you know, kind of what we need. She goes out and does the research, puts the piece together, puts the links in. I added to our website.

 

Photography is the same way. I’d take a few pictures. I wouldn’t say I’m a photographer, but we have some wonderful photographers. I think this area breeds creativity. I don’t know if it’s the mountains or the rural aspect, but there’s just a lot of creative people here. So, leaning into that community and forging ties and trying to collaborate and taking the tourism dollars that we receive and then spending that money back in the community is very important to me.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:24:28] I think that is such a great principle of, you can’t do it all, your time is valuable. So, let other people do the things that they’re great at so that you can complete your responsibilities and you’re not spending six hours a day editing videos and photos. I love that you’re leveraging that.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:24:48] Yeah. And there’s just so many people that one of the things that I’ve found working this job is that there are so many passionate people who are just over the moon about this community. We want to leverage and harness those stories and those people’s talents and abilities and let them tell the story from their perspective, because it just as to that sort of community narrative. 

 

And that has been my approach to branding. Wilkesboro is that, we’ve got breweries, we’ve got wineries, we’ve got mountain bike trails, but so does everybody else. But what they don’t have is they don’t have the unique people in the unique stories that come with those people. And you know why they’re here, How they landed here. What they think is special about the community. Those were things that you can’t replicate at other destinations. So, those are the kind of stories that we try to tell. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:25:35] Great. Tell me what you’ve had to reevaluate. What did you do in 2020 that you will not be doing in 2021?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:25:41] So, Adam, I think that some of the things that we had in 2020 that we would not do in 2021, I want our content and our ads and things that we put out there to have value for the consumer. There’s so much for example, if there was an ad that we placed in a magazine or in a guide or something, and that guide is only available in the immediate vicinity, my view is that the tourism development authorities’ job is to bring people to the community. And if they’re already here and then they see the ad for our business, then my job’s already been done. 

 

So, I would like to use advertising and content and thinks to add value for the visitor. I think so much of the Internet, and this is the sort of the analogy that I use is unboxing, right? So, you go to YouTube. You see all these unboxing videos of the brand new gadget or whatever it is? 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:26:39]. Oh, yeah. My kids love them.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:26:40] I love them too. And what we’re doing here is we’re unboxing Wilkesboro. We’re throwing out breadcrumbs for people to go and find. They’re looking for a place to visit. So, our job is to put those bread crumbs out there and hopefully they find their way to our website and then they find their way to a hotel or B and B or Campground or something, and then they complete the cycle. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:26:59] Great, great. So, you’re able to look at some of the things that you were doing in 2020 that may not fit that philosophy and eliminate those moving into 2021. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:27:09] So, I think that having a small budget, it’s easy decision to say what we will not include. I think the harder decision is to decide of the options that were presented with, what is the best use of the funds or what is the best? Because usually when we’re buying one thing, we’re giving up the opportunity to buy something else.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:27:29] Right. How do you evaluate that?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:27:31] Well, the best way that we know how is, I like to negotiate. So, if maybe there’s an option that we’re presented with option A. So we say, okay, what about option AB? And I love, if there’s an opportunity to sample, for example, of the digital ads, I’m not going to spend my whole, let’s say, $100 on a Google ad. I might do a small post here, or small post. They’re sort of like AB testing where put a few sort of shotgun blast out there until you find the highest conversion rate, and then that’s when you double down on your spending. So, that would be kind of an example of how we go about that. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:28:10] Okay, Thomas. So, as you look into 2021, and you are making these plans, you’re evaluating, if I’m taking money from one place, I’m going to put money somewhere else or vice versa, tell me advice you could give for someone in your chair that may be either a one person show or a small team as they’re going into 2021. What’s the biggest piece of advice that you would give them? 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:28:27] Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, for me, especially with the content just looking at how much time I was spending completing a task or what the cost is to acquire those skills, or to acquire the equipment to complete that task, that helped me sort of weigh the priority, and of course, our own priorities. What do we need right now? And what do we need here and there? Those were sort of the ways that I evaluate how we spend our money. 

 

I always look for opportunities to collaborate. We’re very fortunate to be a part of several DMO organizations where co-ops are offered. I love co-ops. I love calling my neighbors and saying, hey, you guys doing the ad and so and so? Do you want to bundle together, and maybe we could do something, a PR trip or something like that, a magazine ad or something? If we can kind of forge our own co-ops or even with businesses in the community. Those are great ways to make our dollars go further. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:29:36] Awesome. Okay. And then give me, if you boiled 2020 what you learned down into one simple take away, what would you say?

 

Thomas Salley: [00:29:49] Hustle.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:29:50] Hustle. I like it. Give me a small description of why you say hustle.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:29:55] So, one of my hobbies is like buying and selling on eBay. I make a little bit of money. But it’s frankly, I just get a rush from finding something that somebody buying it for less and then selling it for more. So, when everything happened in 2020, it was finding those little nuggets in our community and basically forcing me to go out and finding the types of experiences that would really appeal to people during this time or different times. 

 

So, putting the puzzle pieces together, I love to connect people with either the places or things or other people that they desire. So, finding those little gems in our community and then bringing those up to the forefront would encourage people to travel or make them feel safe and comfortable in our community. That’s what I’m all about. And it takes some creativity. It takes a lot of effort. I don’t think that tourism is, despite working for the government, is not a 9 to 5 job.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:30:52] Right.

 

Thomas Salley: [00:30:53] You know, I’m always trying to observe and think and kind of plan my next steps. So, just fortunate to have a great team with me and lots of wonderful people in the tourism industry to look up to and stand aside. And I’m humbled to be in this position and have the opportunity to collaborate and work with many of the fine folks that are out there.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:31:14] Totally. Well, is there anything Thomas that I haven’t asked you that you think would benefit our audience? 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:31:20] I don’t think so. I would just encourage the audience if you’re looking for a really fun and unique rural escape, check out Wilkesboro. Our website is www.explorewilkesboro.com. Shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions or concerns about traveling to North Carolina or anywhere in our vicinity, I would be happy to connect you with the right folks. And just be safe, be responsible, and get out there and have fun. 

 

Adam Stoker: [00:31:44] Awesome. Well, thanks, Thomas. I appreciate you coming on and sharing a little bit about you and your destination and your experience with us today. 

 

Thomas Salley: [00:31:52] Thank you for having me. It’s been a real pleasure. And I want to thank you and the whole Relic team for having me.

 

Adam Stoker: [00:31:57] Thanks a lot. Well, everybody, this has been another great episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed today’s content, please leave us a rating or a review. It really does help us to grow. And other than that, we’ll see you next week.