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In the next year, 47 signs are set to be installed to help visitors find popular destinations around Wilson.
“When a visitor arrives to town, the signs will lead them on a straight route to the Whirligig Park, but they’ll also see signs for the science museum and other attractions, so they build a repeated memory of what is downtown for example,” said Buzz Bizzell with Bizzell Design. “By the time they arrive at the Whirligig Park, they will have seen 12 or 13 signs that list other destinations they want to go to while they are here.”
While developing new wayfinding signs for Wilson has been in the works for nearly a decade, the project got major financial boosting in recent years through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant as well as funding from the Wilson County Tourism Development Authority and the city of Wilson. Since the funding was approved, officials have been studying routes and finding the best locations to put signs.
This week, officials gave presentations to area stakeholders and will release the plan to get bids on the project. Bizzell said officials likely will approve contracts with two qualified manufacturers to split the work and speed up the timeline for production and installation.
“While the signs are being manufactured, the bases can be put in place. What is really cool about that is once the signs are delivered, it will seem like they go up overnight,” Bizzell said. “You’ll go down Raleigh Road Parkway one day and they’ll all be up. It takes a lot of coordination, but it is really cool.”
In addition to signs for destinations such as city parks, Barton College and the rose garden, the project calls for several welcome signs at major gateways into the city. The plan is to have the bulk of the signs installed by April 1.
The tourism board of directors supported the project with a $50,000 allocation for the second year. The wayfinding project was the largest allocation as part of the board’s more than $180,000 in community grants with 21 other organizations and events receiving grants.
Also during the meeting, board members discussed the latest results of the area’s marketing campaign. The Pit-Stopper advertisement launched in June and is geared toward tourists looking for a stopover during a road trip and highlights popular eateries The Beefmastor Inn, Dick’s Hot Dog Stand and Parker’s Barbecue. This is the latest advertisement in a tourism campaign that launched in the fall.
Board chairman Dennis Johnson said the tourism campaign generated 2.6 million impressions in May.
“We had just over 8,000 clicks, which transfers to a cost of $1.68 each,” Johnson said. “That cost is way down from last month, and the lowest we’ve had so far actually since we launched the campaign back in October.”
Johnson said occupancy at the hotels on the Interstate 95 exit increased 27 percent in May compared to the same month in 2018.
“Part of the reason I truly believe occupancy rate is up is because of the scoring system that guests do when they check out because we’re killing Rocky Mount and Smithfield with customer service and ratings from the surveys we’re getting back,” he said. “Five is the highest, and Wilson is at 4.6, so we really can’t get too much better than that, and I think that is a driving factor for a lot of guests.”