(L to R) witti founder Laura Mandala, Tammy O'Kelley, and emcee Kelley Craighead of Cruise Lines International Association at the awards ceremony last night.
Earlier this week, the Heart of NC 2019 travel guide was named Travel Guide of the Year by a leading international travel magazine.
Asheboro, N.C. (Feb. 21, 2020) The Heart of North Carolina Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Tammy O'Kelley was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Women In Travel And Tourism International (witti) Top Women in Travel Awards last night in Orlando.
O'Kelley's 29-year career in the North Carolina tourism industry began with positions as an administrative assistant at the North Carolina Zoo and as a tour host/consultant at the Hight Point Market. A highlight of her 19-year tenure with the Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau includes negotiating an agreement with NC Department of Transportation for the tourism development authority to staff and operate the Interstate 73-74 visitor centers after the state had voted not to fund them. The centers welcome roughly 65,000 visitors each year; they also assist travelers displaced by hurricanes on the NC coast. When Interstate 73/74 is finished, the numbers are expected to double.
Growing Visitation, Jobs, National Visibility
Tourism is on the move in Randolph County, generating jobs in restaurants, hotels and destinations. The most recent research shows visitor spending county-wide reached an all-time high of $154 million in 2018. The county hosted 1.4 million visitors that same year. Looking ahead, the North Carolina Zoo will participate in a 10-episode "docuseries" with Nat Geo Wild scheduled to air this fall. The visitors bureau will support the zoo's storytelling efforts and media outreach.
In her acceptance speech, O'Kelley pointed to future challenges for women in the industry. "The gender gap in hiring is coming closer together, yet the pay disparity gap remains far apart nationally," she said. "Many women leaders in travel and tourism make 25 percent less than their male counterparts. I've worked hard for my staff to have pay commensurate with their role for the job they are doing."
O'Kelley leads a staff of 18 who work to promote Randolph County through international, regional and in-state travel marketing and visitor center support.
Travel Guide Award Highlights Best of The Heart Of North Carolina
The LUXLife Magazine article detailing why the guide was chosen says, "…the image of the renowned potter, Eck McCanless carrying the results of his craft captures a humility yet pride in his work, a coarseness combined with a sophistication that draws people in."
"I realized how significant this was when a tourism board member said this magazine was in almost every private airport hangar in the United States," O'Kelley says.
"I'm proud of this attention to our storytelling about the Seagrove pottery tradition and our destination as a whole," she continues. "We have more than 100 working potters here, the largest concentration in the USA. We knew that cover image told our story in a special way."
Richard Schoenberger of Manor Graphics shot the cover. The Heart of NC's Amber Scarlett is the travel guide editor.
The new 2020 travel guide cover features Dustie Gregson, owner of The Table in Asheboro.
About the Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau:
The Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau operates via the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority. They market and promote visitation across Randolph County in concert with Visit North Carolina. www.heartofnorthcarolina.com