Guest Opinion: “Preserving the Past, Building the Future: Growing Domestic Tourism in the Albemarle Region” – OBX Today

Guest Opinion: “Preserving the Past, Building the Future: Growing Domestic Tourism in the Albemarle Region” – OBX Today

Guest Opinion: “Preserving the Past, Building the Future: Growing Domestic Tourism in the Albemarle Region” – OBX Today
Guest Opinion: “Preserving the Past, Building the Future: Growing Domestic Tourism in the Albemarle Region” – OBX Today
Josh Bass, President of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted)

Presented by Josh Bass, President of the Currituck Chamber of Commerce

In recent years, tourism throughout the region has expanded. Traditionally, tourism only occurred on a small scale anywhere west of the Wright Memorial Bridge. There’s no doubt that the beaches of the Outer Banks are still the giant leader of regional tourism, but look around and you’ll see the beginnings of a new inland tourism economy beginning to take shape. A number of Airbnb properties are starting to pop up in Currituck, Elizabeth City and throughout the rest of the region. I recently counted Airbnbs and there were nearly 100 Airbnbs between Currituck Courthouse and the Wright Memorial Bridge.

A few months ago I was at Two Souls Wine bar in Elizabeth City and I was shamelessly snooping on the tables around me. There was a young couple at a table next to me from Michigan chatting with their server. They were staying at an Airbnb in downtown Elizabeth and using it as a base to explore the region for a few days. Their plans were to spend a day down on the outer banks looking around, spend a day exploring Elizabeth City, and then a final day checking out Edenton. I think that in the future this is the way more and more visitors will start to meet our region. Spending a week in a beach villa will still be a key driver, but there will be a growing market in the future for shorter stays and more regional experiences.

For many years Charleston has been ranked as America’s top travel destination. What draws people to Charleston is the history, architecture and food. Our region boasts many of these attributes, although they are more geographically spread. The two places that do this best in the Albemarle are the towns of Edenton and Manteo. Both of these cities offer charming historic walking centers that have been beautifully preserved. Their citizens value their history and old buildings. Edenton and Manteo both offer unique shopping and dining experiences. A big draw to these cities is the sense of history that is immediately apparent when you visit.

More than a decade ago, in my own county of Currituck, the county commissioned a study of historic buildings. What many historically minded people found shocking in the survey was the number of historic buildings that had been lost in recent years. This led a group of citizens to lobby the county government to form the Currituck Historic Preservation Commission. I personally have been honored to serve as chairman of this commission since its inception. One of the commission’s primary goals is to designate properties as local historic landmarks. This can only happen when a property owner requests that determination and if successful the property qualifies for a significant local tax abatement. To date, two Currituck homes have been designated as local landmarks with a third currently in the works.

I hope that through historical preservation we generate economic development. By preserving our history, we will create a community that tourists will want to visit and that they will feel the sense of pride we have in our local history. The Currituck Historic Preservation Commission has organized a tour of historic properties in the county that brought hundreds of people to visit. These visitors spend money in our local economy. Aside from the impacts of tourism, anyone who has owned an older home knows that they require more maintenance than a newer building. Preserving a historic home often requires paying contractors and handymen to help with maintenance that generates additional income in the local economy.

The Albemarle region was the first area of ​​North Carolina to see European settlement. Some of the counties that exist today were established as early as 1668. Of course, there were indigenous people here long before that. One thing our region has is an abundance of history. As a region, Albemarle must look to the past as a way to usher in an economically prosperous future.

Historic Preservation does more than just save physical structures; historic preservation aims to cultivate a sense of pride and create community around local history. Historic preservation not only protects heritage in a tangible way, but also fosters a shared identity among residents. This sense of connection to the past contributes to a collective pride that resonates with locals and visitors alike. As the community embraces its historical roots, there is an opportunity for residents to actively participate in the preservation process, ensuring that the stories of the past are not only preserved, but also passed on to future generations.

In addition to the economic benefits of historic preservation, there is a cultural richness that emerges when a community actively engages with its history. Events, such as historical tours and community gatherings centered around heritage, become more than just tourist attractions – they become shared experiences that strengthen the fabric of the community. Community stories provide a tapestry of narratives that, when woven together, create a unique and compelling story. This cultural wealth becomes a source of inspiration for artists, writers and educators, further enriching the cultural landscape of the region.

Additionally, the Albemarle region’s commitment to historic preservation can serve as a model for sustainable tourism. Balancing the flow of visitors with the need to protect and preserve the environment is essential to the long-term sustainability of any tourist destination. By highlighting the historical and cultural aspects of the region, tourism can be curated in a way that encourages responsible exploration, ensuring that Albemarle’s natural beauty and historical significance endure for generations to come.

In essence, the Albemarle region stands at a crossroads, where the preservation of its past intersects with the possibilities of the future. As the community embraces its history, there is not only an economic advantage, but a deeper and deeper bond that forms between the people and the place they call home. Through a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to historic preservation, the Albemarle region has the potential to create a narrative that captivates the imagination of those who visit, inviting them to become part of a living history that continues to unfold.

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