Wayne Barber of Jackson, Miss., enjoyed his recent visit to Rock Hill and York County.
He complimented the attractiveness of downtown Rock Hill, attractions such as the Catawba Indians Cultural Center and the attentiveness of his hosts, the Rock Hill-York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the folks at First Baptist Church.
He plans to come back this time with about 30 to 40 of his friends. And, he plans to come back on a regular basis, spending several thousand dollars on hotel rooms and sit-down dinners each visit.
Thats good news for the convention and visitors bureau. Barber was one of more than 300 people who visited York County last week as part of the Going on Faith convention. The group brought four busloads of people to the community.
More than half of the visitors were decision makers for various Christian travel groups or tours. What they saw and how they were received will determine whether their buses will stay in Rock Hill in the future.
Barber, owner of Purpose Driven Tours, said, Ill be back as soon as I figure out a way. His non-profit ministry runs about a tour a month to places such as Washington, D.C., the Great Lakes region, and Hawaii at Christmas.
He also operates several mystery tours where people get on the bus without knowing where they are going. These tours usually offer plenty of entertainment. It replaces going to Branson, Missouri, he said.
Barber said York County would make a good stay-over stop on a tour. It has what he and other tour operators are looking for: enough attractions to visit, enough hotel rooms and enough places to enjoy a good, leisurely meal.
From a religious standpoint, the region has two stellar attractions: the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte and the NarroWay Theater near Fort Mill.
Many of the people took the Going on Faith tour to see a production at NarroWay.
They saw the theaters cast perform the Fourth Cross, a story that looks at the lives of four men. One man is a murderer. Two are thieves. The fourth, a carpenter from Nazareth.
The cast didnt disappoint them.
I was expecting a cheesy church-group production, Barber said. It was a quality production.
You cant beat NarroWay, its very professional, said Burdell and Charlotte Hensley of Oskaloosa, Iowa.
NarroWay, it blew us away, said Joe Cappuzello, president and CEO of The Group Family Travel, which organizes the Going on Faith Tour and several other tourism trips. The groups African American Travel Conference will be in York County in April.
NarroWay has catered to Christian tourism for many years. Lara McCoy, the theaters manager said between 75 and 80 percent of its business is from Christian tourism.
The convention and visitors bureau staff worked hard to show the Going on Faith tour member there is more to see here. Convention guests went to the Catawba Cultural Center, Brattonsville, and to downtown Rock Hill and its civil rights history. Some tour members said they learned much about the spiritualism of the Catawbas.
The most frequent compliment heard was just how friendly everyone was to them.
The hospitality and impressing guests, however, is only half of the process. As Cappuzello observed, The work begins when we leave.
Also on the buses were representatives of other communities that want to be a Christian tourism destination or stopover. While the Going on Faith convention was a chance to showcase York County, they were talking up what makes their communities special.
So now its up to the convention and visitors bureau to call the names on the business cards they received. They can probably mark Wayne Barber of Jackson as coming back and work with him on hotels and other details.
It would be nice for Burdell and Charlotte Hensley to come back too. That might be a tougher sell. The Hensleys originally got into the business by putting together tours for bankers. Charlotte already has a lot of bankers. But Burdell, a former high school track coach, may be a good target for some sports tourism marketing.
And then theres Lilliam Jackson of Columbus, Ohio. The friendliness of the people she met on her first visit to Rock Hill impressed her the most. A member of the Black Catholic Ministries, she helps with groups of seniors who usually take shopping tours, but sometimes they make extended trips.
Thats three out of 300. Theres a lot more work to do.
Don Worthington 803-329-4066 email@example.com