MIKE WAGONER

MIKE WAGONER

Economies that depend on tourism face some serious challenges in the 2020s, according to Edward T. McMahon, who is affiliated with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.

Carteret County’s Crystal Coast is well-positioned as a vacation destination that people can drive to, rather than fly into, for the most part. Families feel relatively safe and protected here.

The uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to loom. McMahon recommends that tourism destinations use this time to take inventory and assess how well they are doing “to preserve their natural, cultural and scenic resources.”

“If a tourism community doesn’t have a plan to succeed, that defaults to having a plan to fail,” McMahon said. Chew on that a moment.

Tourism, if done correctly, he says “provides communities with many benefits, including new jobs, an expanded tax base, enhanced infrastructure, improved facilities and an expanded market for local products, art and handicrafts.”

Strive for “responsible tourism,” McMahon said.

 Responsible tourism can ensure that our Carteret County goose that lays the golden eggs is fully energized to keep on ticking.

McMahon said: “Responsible tourism is high-quality tourism, a step above a ‘heads-in-beds’ mentality. A ‘responsible tourism focus’ zeroes in on places that are authentic, specialized, unique and homegrown.”

“To understand responsible tourism, think about unspoiled scenery, locally owned businesses, historic small towns and walkable neighborhoods.”

Historic preservation is a key component of a good “responsible tourism strategy.” McMahon said a town or city “without a past is like a person without a memory.”

He said: “Preserving historic structures is important because they are the physical manifestations of our past. They are the ‘heart and soul’ of a community. Tourists simply won’t go to a place that has lost its soul.”

Beaufort is the third oldest community in North Carolina – dubbed “historic and fine since 1709” – and the town deserves an “A+” grade from McMahon. Beaufort clearly checks off all the boxes on his “to-do” grading sheet.

“Responsible tourism emphasizes the real over the artificial, and the true story of a place is worth telling,” McMahon said.

We’ve got that covered, too. Cape Lookout National Seashore, Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center on Harkers Island, Fort Macon State Park, the North Carolina Maritime Museum and The Old Burying Ground, to name just a few, are chock-full of stories.

Next, “make your story come alive,” McMahon said. “Visitors want information about what they are seeing, and interpretation can be a powerful storytelling tool that can make an exhibit, an attraction and a community come alive.”

Now, we’re really cooking. Carteret County is slam, cram-full of storytellers, both official “fish house liars” and unofficial ones, like that crowd from Salter Path.

McMahon should interview Martha Barnes, proprietor of Cousins Bed and Breakfast in Beaufort.

She is affectionately known as the “mouth of the South” and a volunteer docent with the Beaufort Historical Association. She frequently narrates tours aboard the town’s English double decker bus.

“Carteret County is North Carolina’s largest county; it’s just that half of it is under water,” Barnes says.

“The area of Carteret County is 1,064 square miles – 531 square miles of land and 533 square miles of water.”

“Some of our old homes lean and some of them leak and some do both, but the important thing is they are still standing,” she noted.

“In Beaufort, if anything is imperfect in any way, such as leaning, leaking, rusting or anything else, we call that ‘Beaufort Charm.’”

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