Promoting – and energizing – a city

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 05:28 PM

In the mid-1980s, Durham was seen as something of the shabby, blue-collar edge of the Triangle, Wib Gulley, who became mayor in 1985, recalled Wednesday at the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Annual Tribute Luncheon. 

In its once-flourishing downtown, as Gulley has recalled wryly on other occasions, you worried tumbleweeds might hit you as they rolled by on its nearly deserted streets.

Despite Duke University’s growing national prominence and the booming Research Triangle Park on the city’s southeastern fringe, it was not easy to think of Durham as a magnet for visitors -- or for national renown.

Flash forward a quarter-century, and Durham is a hot ticket. Energetic families, upscale retirees and ambitious young creative-class entrepreneurs flock here. Visitors descend on the city for its signature festivals; its entertainment, cultural and sports venues; or just to sample its nationally known restaurants or funky food trucks.

Many factors and actors deserve credit for that renaissance, but certainly a healthy dose of credit goes to the DCVB. The organization celebrated its 25th birthday at the Wednesday luncheon and reflected on the changes on its watch, and the destination city this has become.

Want some hard numbers? DCVB delights in producing them.

Since 1990, when DCVB started tracking these numbers, “124 million visitors have experienced Durham and they spent $12.9 billion in Durham’s economy,” President and CEO Shelly Green reminded the crowd.

Some other key stats:

-- $139 million occupancy taxes collected.

-- $578 million local tax revenue generated by visitors.

-- 14.7 million visitor inquiries generated.

-- 15,764 conventions and groups serviced.

-- 102,905 conventions and meetings held here.

-- 3.5 million convention and meeting attendees.

-- 5,149,485 hotel room nights used by conventions and meetings.

-- 1,172,662 hotel room nights booked by DCVB.

-- 21,833 DCVB-assisted stories in the media.

Many stories have been in national publications, which regularly shower praise upon Durham. In 2011, The New York Times listed Durham as one of the top 41 places in the world to visit. Last year, Southern Living named us the “Tastiest Town in the South.”

But for all DCVB’s accomplishments in drawing visitors and accolades, at least as important have been its efforts to help us feel better about ourselves. Not so long ago, Durham had an Eeyore-like “woe is us” attitude.

Again, many players have helped transform that, but certainly a constant boost has been DCVB and the relentless reinforcement of our sense of place by its first CEO, Reyn Bowman.

Whether tirelessly correcting airline personnel welcoming passengers to Raleigh when they landed at Raleigh-Durham Airport (equidistant from the center of each city and with Durham generating a healthy share of its traffic) or celebrating “Note-A-Bulls” and pushing back against misinformed impressions of the city, DCVB has done much to remind us this is “where great things happen.”

All in all, it has been a pretty good quarter-century’s work. Given the boom the city is undergoing, we can hardly wait to see what DCVB can do playing that strong hand for the next quarter-century.