How do we best serve visitors and our stakeholders when travel and tourism are stalled? For meetings and events, approximately 11,700 room nights our group sales team helped secure were canceled in 2020 across 17 events. For much of the spring and beyond, Durham’s restaurants and visitor attractions were closed or operating at a greatly reduced occupancy. Discover Durham values and agrees with putting public health above all, but it has still been tough to watch the unintended impact of social distancing disrupt and devastate the hospitality industry.  

Here’s more detail on how we answered the call.  
Shifting Marketing &
Sales Approaches


Aligned with our Rediscover Durham campaign, a new content strategy emerged to produce messaging tailored to visitors with the circumstances in mind. For example, our Pick Up. Take out. Dine in… in Durham piece published this spring and audited throughout the year has received more than 70,000 views, making it our single most viewed blog post ever. In response to what we were hearing from our restaurant partners, we have also been much more direct when talking to visitors about expectations and considerations for guests when dining out, hoping to relieve some of the pressure on service industry workers.

Email Marketing

Email marketing continues to be an effective way for us to reach potential visitors, especially after a redesign of our flagship monthly newsletter delivered to 10,000-plus subscribers now allows for more storytelling and photography. What’s especially impressive during this time is how we’ve maintained an open rate of 33.19%, far and away better than the travel industry’s 20% benchmark. In April, our open rate was 43.7%. In May, we still received an open rate of 39.67%, proving that the content we provided was trusted and relevant to folks interested in visiting or supporting Durham businesses, even during the most tumultuous times.

The redesigned flagship e-newsletter

Stakeholder Communication

We also doubled down on our communication to stakeholders, regularly sharing resources with local business owners to help them reopen and stay open. Our COVID-19 landing page became a centralized hub of information relevant to those working in the hospitality industry. There’s a link on that page to subscribe to regular email newsletters, too, specifically distributing articles and updates that could be of use to meeting planners, hoteliers, event and facility owners, attraction managers, artists, restauranteurs and retailers. Since March, we’ve sent more than 30 emails with the latest information on funding, updated guidance, and context about local and national orders.    

The Sales team also deliberately increased communications with meeting and event planners as well as venue owners. At the onset, we worked overtime to make sure as many events as possible were postponed, not canceled. We have continued to share insights learned about designing hybrid meetings moving forward, which also led to new content pieces.  


Before the pandemic started, we were already working to develop content more intentionally for distribution across our social channels. Through the end of the fiscal year, we accrued an impressive 145,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Beyond the vanity metrics, we’ve consistently received engagement rates, up to 10x the typical benchmarks on some platforms. Discover Durham has carefully crafted a tone and “voice” befitting Durham’s unique personality, which has been recognized across our industry and earned national attention.  With social media often centered on national and ongoing conversations, there were plenty of moments to respond to throughout this unprecedented year. Our proactive content strategy covered a wide range of issues, from reaffirming our position on social justice issues to reinforcing the importance of wearing masks. But, the immediate, timely responses we crafted to national dialogues led to some of our most engaged pieces of content to date. In case you missed it, here are a few of the ways we were able to engage proud Durham residents and potential visitors.  

Public Relations

Journalists might not be able to visit Durham on assignment the way they used to, but that hasn’t slowed down Discover Durham’s PR team. From landing national hits, to engaging with the local media and influencers, there were plenty of ways the PR team kept Durham top-of-mind for important media contacts. Visit North Carolina hosted a virtual media event earlier this year, for example, and our team secured a Durham representative as one of five from across the state to speak with national publications. PR efforts also shifted more locally, securing stories with broadcast, print and digital media outlets. All told, those efforts delivered more than 345 million impressions with messaging that reinforces Durham as an attractive destination.  

Fall Advertising Campaign

Ahh, to think of the fall of 2019, when we lived in a world without a global pandemic and were able to excel at what we do as travel and tourism marketers. Discover Durham planned and executed a successful campaign targeting parents located in cities across neighboring states with the “bold experiences” Durham has for kids to learn and discover on a getaway. It was Discover Durham’s first time advertising via mediums like Hulu, and the first time that a giveaway was incorporated into an advertising campaign. Across all placements, the campaign garnered more than 3 million impressions reaching potential travelers.


In the spring, our marketing team was dreaming of ways we could further engage with our destination and diversify our storytelling mediums. The result? An original lo-fidelity music album, durhamfi, with 20 music tracks developed in close partnership with artists from Blackspace. Lo-fi albums are big business on outlets like Spotify and YouTube, where typically, looping animation is supplemented by continuous, lyric-less background music to help folks mediate, study, or otherwise provide unobtrusive soundtracks to social events. From our research, we are the first Destination Marketing Organization to produce such a project, with each song inspired by a visitor-facing location within Durham. Check it out for yourself, and hopefully, you’ll be transported to the sounds of the spaces they’re named after. We’re also proud of the album artwork produced by a local animator showcasing a few Durham staples.

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