Loafability- Our Visitor's Bureau
Our Visitor’s Bureau
By: Tom Griffen
Don’t be surprised on game day if you see the opposing team’s flag flying high over the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitor’s Bureau.
Because at the Visitor’s Bureau, they want to provide a hospitable welcome to outsiders. Now don’t think they aren’t concerned about you too, because they most definitely are. It’s just that their Franklin Street office is often the first stop for folks new to the area, so they’re always on high-alert, ready to represent the town in a way that would make you proud.
“We are as much about the customer experience here as we are about the product,” says Executive Director Laurie Paolicelli, “We focus on service and satisfy visitors’ needs however we can.”
I hadn’t been there for more than 30 seconds before they offered me some water, coffee, or a cup of tea. And though this may seem like a minor detail, it could be a make or break moment—a detail that encourages someone to choose Chapel Hill for any number of reasons: school, camp, business, relocation, etc. It might be the beginning of someone falling for the town, like so many of you did.
As you might expect, UNC is the top reason folks visit Chapel Hill. This includes potential students and their parents, alumni, sports fans, academic conference-goers, and healthcare-related visitors. And as the Triangle continues to grow, more and more folks visit Chapel Hill to see friends and relatives who’ve put down roots. There’s also a handful of local day-trippers who look to Chapel Hill for a change of pace. All in all, plenty of people to fill the town’s 1650 total hotel rooms.
The Visitor’s Bureau witnesses a lot of repeat business. And, according to Laurie, it’s not uncommon for folks to fall in love with Chapel Hill.
“Their reasons are tough for them to put their finger on,” she says. “There’s a feeling, largely intangible, that’s tough to beat.”
Laurie says this feeling has a lot to do with Chapel Hill’s “loafabillity.” That’s right, loafability. One’s access to strolling walkways, on campus or in town, taking in the dogwoods, azaleas, and manicured green areas. Breathing in the aromatic appeal of restaurants and coffee shops. Listening to the clank of pint glasses, like bells, coming from Top of the Hill. Or sitting on a street bench to watch locals zip past on skateboards and fixies. Occasionally overcome by a sea of Carolina blue backpacks.
“Before there was pavement in Chapel Hill,” Laurie says, “there was a fine white gravel lining the pathways. It was said that folks would get a piece of this gravel in their shoe and eventually it would get into their heart.”
And once it’s in their heart, it’s there forever.
But a lot has changed over time—a comment often fielded by Laurie and her team. Folks, especially alumni, return to town after years away trying to reengage their heyday. They find a Chapel Hill they don’t remember and fear it’s lost.
But it’s not lost. Not at all. Chapel Hill is still a composite of its vast historical accomplishments—and someone returning after a decade-long hiatus might find a different aesthetic. But the underlying vibe remains the same.
Chapel Hill still had the South’s first black mayor (Howard Nathaniel Lee) and the state’s third openly-gay mayor (Mark Kleinschmidt). It still had Rev. Charles Jones, a white Presbyterian minister who in 1947 gave refuge to men participating in The Journey of Reconciliation—a direct challenge to Jim Crow seating on interstate buses and trains—an action that would later inspire the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement.
Chapel Hill is still Dean Smith. And not just his basketball, but also his activism. He insisted that African-American athletes be allowed to eat at the all-white lunch counters on campus. He also fought to allow black athletes on visiting teams to stay in local hotels. He put his job on the line to do the right thing.
This is all still Chapel Hill.
“Remembering who we are is a function of who we are,” Laurie says, reflecting on Chapel Hill’s rich history of fighting for what is right. “We offer a safe space where people feel comfortable.”
Sure, there will always be a disconnect between the outside and the inside. But the Visitor’s Bureau does their best to bridge (and respect) the gaps.
So yeah, to make everyone feel right at home, they fly the competition’s flag on game day. Except Duke’s. They don’t hang that one up. Because, well, Duke.