Visitors Bureau’s Shah on the shifting sands of Chatham events

CN+R STAFF REPORTS
Posted 4/14/21

It falls on Neha Shah, the director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention & Visitors Bureau, to help promote through various platforms events and attractions of Chatham County. The notion of …

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Visitors Bureau’s Shah on the shifting sands of Chatham events

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It falls on Neha Shah, the director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention & Visitors Bureau, to help promote through various platforms events and attractions of Chatham County. The notion of tourism and events has certainly shifted during COVID-19, creating uncertainty for the long list of Chatham’s major events and headaches for Shah. With the traditional “season” of events now under way, the News + Record asked Shah about what she sees taking place in the coming months.

What’s normally (pre-COVID, non-COVID) on your events schedule from April on?

The Pittsboro-Siler City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is normally involved in a number of spring festivals and events. March and April are the kick-off months that lead into a full year of events, major festivals and small but significant gatherings open to the public; everything from spring pop-up markets to live music to multi-faceted events (marathons and post-event festivities) to major festivals, including Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, Chicken Festival, Flatwoods Festival, Goldston’s Old Fashion Day, and Silk Hope’s Old-Fashioned Farmers’ Days.

What’s actually on your schedule now? What’s scheduled, what’s tentative?

As our community continues to abide by restrictions due to the pandemic, the CVB is planning for smaller events, hybrid events, drive-through events, and some events have been postponed. We continue to provide clear details and information to the public, because these are festivals everyone wants to attend but are not sure whether they are happening (i.e., February Folk Art Show at Fearrington, Piedmont Farm Tour, Chicken Festival — did not/will not happen in 2021). Some events are still happening but are modified for inclusion. For example, N.C. Beer Month is happening in April with restaurants opening up more, but it will not be one major event. Instead, there will be 30 days of celebrating in small ways. Fearrington is offering takeout N.C. Beer Fest this year instead of an on-site event. Open barn events at Celebrity Dairy were coordinated through reservations. Shakori Hills will take place in a different way with smaller, multiple events. Spring markets are taking place on a smaller scale, and outdoor events continue as well.

Some ongoing weekly or monthly events will occur, such as wine flights/tastings, N.C. Arts Incubator art receptions, free weekly wine tastings at Vino!! Wine Shop, farm and wine dinners, and more. For the latest updates on these and other Chatham County events, people can visit the CVB website: https://visitpittsboro.com/events and CVB Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/PittsboroSilerCityCVB/events.

What changes are you planning, given the pandemic, for your scheduled events?

I am working with the event coordinators that I do each year to continue to provide state and local health guidance regarding COVID-19. The CVB has always had a good working relationship with the Chatham County Environmental Health team, pre-pandemic, and they continue to be extremely helpful. They have the knowledge we need to plan events, and I believe our event coordinators would agree.

The CVB has always played an important role as planners, and we continue to be part of the conversation for new or recurring events. With COVID-19 still being present in the community, we must coordinate even more plans and details to keep safety top of mind. Changes include consideration of takeout kits (pick-up option), reservation-only events, limits to capacity, staggered events, etc.

Events that are taking place will include an outdoor component and those happening inside are certainly different, with social distancing, face coverings at all times (except when eating or drinking), and limited contact. Surface areas are being cleaned frequently, staff temperature checks are taking place, and a good number of events are being postponed if it is not feasible to take all of these safety measures this year.

Are these changes set in stone, or might they change?

Some events will possibly have a caveat. However, for the most part, those events that are happening are much more controlled, as far as capacity and venue (mostly or entirely outdoors) so that they can still take place without disappointment of having to cancel. All along, since many of our visitors are tech-savvy, they conduct their research online and contact us in advance, so they are accustomed to having an itinerary planned ahead of time. Even their spontaneous stops are less so, with some information from us prior to their road trip.

For events which will occur, how are you adjusting your goals/objectives for those events?

As capacities remain reduced and concerns over safety are top of mind for folks, revenue will undoubtedly be impacted. However, the CVB is doing everything it can to soften the economic impact by supporting our local businesses through promotion of their events and by raising awareness of the safety protocols in place so people feel safe to enjoy such events. Offering a food and drink event with live music can bring good crowds throughout the day, with some great benefit to the business or businesses hosting it. Right now, it’s important to find a balance between a good, safe experience to help forget tough times for a bit, while also supporting local businesses.

Looking ahead to the summer and fall...what are you focusing upon?

I am encouraged to see everyone continuing to work jointly, trying to build events that are as safe as possible. While it is challenging, it is important to keep our guard up and not become apathetic to the diligence that is necessary to keep all guests and staff safe. We will keep going, looking back at the many challenges we faced last year, and keep focused on the goal of reuniting in person to see smiles beyond the mask and not just behind it.

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