Donna Carpenter represents an area known for fast cars. The past year for her might better be characterized by caution flags than straightaways, but the president and CEO of the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau and 2021 chairperson for the Southeast Tourism Society (STS) has not lost sight of the finish line.
“In Cabarrus County, our visitor numbers are going up,” she said. “We know recovery from this pandemic will be slow, but last April was our worst month, and we have enjoyed a gradual climb back since then. I am forever an optimist, and I like to think we are nimble here. That said, what’s been good for us here may not be good for someone else.
“The Charlotte Motor Speedway has done a phenomenal job of creating new business for our area,” said Carpenter. “Early last summer, they created high school graduation events so our kids could have their ceremonies; since then, they’ve started doing drive-in movie nights and live concerts, all of which are spaced out for people, who stay in their cars or sit next to them. The Speedway’s racing events have been impacted, but they have responded with a lot of successful ideas for our area.”
Carpenter sees Cabarrus County’s tourism recovery unfolding through a progression of three key markets.
“We think we’ll see outdoor sports business return first, followed by group travel, then meetings,” she said. “Our transient hotels are doing very well, and all our group travel visitors are invited to come see us as soon as they can. We’re ready for them. Great Wolf Lodge is open and doing great, restaurants are open, some of the racing museums may be open, and tours of the speedway are definitely open.”
Carpenter embraces her role as STS chairperson during such a pivotal year.
“Someone told me a long time ago that no one ever got fired for doing a good job,” she said. “That’s no longer true. A lot of very good people across this industry have lost their jobs this past year. My STS network has been invaluable to me because I haven’t felt alone in facing these difficult circumstances. For that reason, I’m more than happy to give back to STS this year.
“Advocacy is at the top of my agenda as chairperson,” she said. “STS does such a great job at the local, state and national levels. Our industry continues to be taken for granted, and we must stay in front of these elected officials. I will stress advocacy, and I will stress the benefits we enjoy through our relationships between members. STS will continue to be invaluable in helping us to support each other on our journeys through this ordeal.”
Carpenter concluded her interview with a heartfelt statement: “In 2021, STS has a vital role to play for all its members and for our industry. As chairperson this year, I’m honored to be a part of it.”