International golf visitor numbers to North Carolina are set to soar following the most successful-ever North America Golf Tourism Convention (NAC) in America’s “home of golf” – Pinehurst Resort.
Organised by global golf tourism organisation IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators), the 8th annual NAC saw the number of attending delegates surpass the 400 mark for the first time, reaching a total of 405. Of those, a record 158 were golf tour operators, who attended from 29 countries around the world, all selling golf vacations to the Americas.
They met with golf resorts, golf courses, hotels, and regional and state tourist offices as well as other golf-related supplier companies and organisations from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean during two days of business sessions at the resort’s venerable Carolina Hotel. Delegates then took part in the annual NAC golf tournament on two of Pinehurst’s nine golf courses: the legendary Donald Ross-designed No 2, restored by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore for its third US Open in 2014 and which will hold it again in 2024; and the Tom Fazio-designed No 8.
NAC attendees were also treated to an indoor and outdoor Taste of North Carolina evening at the resort’s Pinehurst Country Club with food, wine, craft beers and spirits served up by artisans from across the state. Before and after the convention, many of the tour operators got the chance to experience golf in different regions of North Carolina, going on familiarisation tours to Greensboro, the Outer Banks, Fayetteville and around the Village of Pinehurst.
Visit North Carolina Executive Director Wit Tuttell was delighted with the event and said he anticipated international golf visitor numbers to the state would surge as a result.
“It has been really good,” he said. “Pinehurst has given us the initial recognition for the golf market and this event has just opened up all the other areas of the state and what we have to offer to the tour operators. They have all been very surprised. I don’t think many of them had a picture in their mind of what North Carolina was like.
“This convention has given us the opportunity to showcase the state and show them that we have more than 500 golf courses. The tour operators are creating a lot of itineraries for North Carolina and the South and hopefully that will translate into room nights. I hope this will result in a lot more international visitation and people playing a lot of the other golf courses we have.”
Jack Bickhart, Vice President of Sales for Pinehurst Resort, said: “We are really excited about hosting this event and what it is going to mean for Pinehurst. It is bigger than ever, especially the number of buyers. We had a target for how many contracts with tour operators we would write as a result and we have exceeded that already. From our perspective, there is nothing better than having the tour operators come here and experience Pinehurst to understand and know our product.”
He added that hosting NAC was part of a three-year plan to grow business with international golf tour operators. The initial goal was to focus on the UK and European markets and those were now showing double-digit growth, so the resort was now looking at Asian markets to capitalise on exposure from the US Open as well as continuing to grow its business from the UK and Europe.
Bickhart thanked Visit North Carolina for its support in helping Pinehurst to stage the convention. He also praised the support of the local Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Together, the resort and the CVB had more than 150 scheduled business meetings with tour operators during the convention, as well as other ad hoc meetings.
Caleb Miles, President and CEO of the Pinehurst area CVB, said as many as 80-90% of the tour operators attending NAC had never been there before.
“It has been really good to expose them to everything the area and state has to offer and the feedback from them has been terrific,” he added.
“Everyone we have met wants to consider us for their 2017 itineraries and create new product. I would say 25% of them want to do an itinerary combining Pinehurst with The Masters. Pinehurst is the hook because it is a bucket-list item but with 40 courses in the area, all within a 15-mile radius, and many others around the state they can bookend it with those. The beauty of the international golf traveller is that a lot of their itineraries are two weeks long and they also go to Virginia and South Carolina.”
IAGTO Chief Executive Peter Walton enthused: “This is the first time we have brought the North America Convention to North Carolina and we have been blown away, not only by the enthusiasm of the state tourist board, but also by the eagerness of many regional CVBs to get involved, to host familiarisation trips and to take this opportunity to position North Carolina as a truly international golf destination.”
One year on from the launch of the inaugural US Golf Tourism Survey, launched at NAC 2015 in Greater Palm Springs in conjunction with Brand USA, Walton revealed that initial findings showed the value of golf tourism to the USA ran to billions of dollars – yet there was still capacity for growth of almost 20% in the number of visitor rounds on average. More than 70 state tourist boards and regional CVBs along with 310 golf courses participated in the survey.
The 9th North America Golf Tourism Convention will take place from 25-28 June 2017 and will see the event returning to Miami and to the resort which hosted the inaugural event back in 2009, Trump National Doral.