Wrightsville Beach will hold a key leadership position in New Hanover County’s tourism board in 2017 after Blockade Runner Beach Resort general manager Nicolas Montoya was elected to be the board’s chairman, the first from the town since 2012.
After two years as vice chairman of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority board of directors, Montoya was unanimously elected on Jan. 25 to the board’s lead position, from where he said he wanted to elevate the region’s tourism and natural attractions as a discussion point on economic development for the region.
“Tourism shouldn’t be taken for granted as part of economic development,” Montoya said, noting that tourism, recreation and leisure can be underemphasized when trying to attract high-tech, manufacturing or other commercial development in the region.
When marketing the region for businesses to expansion, leisure and recreation can often be associated with lower productivity, leading to tourism often being overlooked in economic development efforts. But that view misses the point, Montoya said, and an opportunity to present an even better view of the county as a place to build a business.
“Everybody that you talk to that’s moved here, it’s because of its beauty and its accessibility to a variety of attractions,” he said. “It’s a profitable, forward thinking, livable area that we should develop responsibly.”
Montoya said his best opportunity to promote the benefits of tourism in economic development was through the TDA chair’s seat on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, which will be led by a new CEO when Natalie English takes the role on March 6. English will also have a seat on the TDA board, he said.
Montoya is the first representative from a Wrightsville Beach business to serve as the board’s chair since South Beach Grill owner John Andrews was chair in 2012.
North Carolina state law sets out how the county distributes funds collected from the room occupancy tax, with each municipality getting a portion of the revenue to direct according to its needs and its marketing goals.
Montoya said he didn’t see the need for major changes to the TDA’s marketing strategy, much of which is controlled by the municipalities. The TDA board ratifies the municipalities’ expenses, but Montoya said the state funding formula offers the board limited opportunity to guide marketing strategies. While Wilmington showcases the convention center, downtown and Riverwalk, Wrightsville Beach’s marketing efforts highlight the town’s beaches, waterways and leisure activities, Montoya said.