The charm offensive was on Friday night at Southern Distilling Co. as the city’s hospitality was on display for all to see as part of Bourbon, Balloons & Battles.
“We’re hoping that everyone has such a good time here, that they go back and want to encourage other people to come back,” Cindy Charlton Sutton said. She is the executive director of the Statesville Convention & Visitors Bureau
Travel journalists from around the country were invited for a weekend in Statesville where the city’s tourism was highlighted. Along with samples of bourbon, food from 220 Café, The Bristol Café & Catering, Twisted Oak Bar & Grill and Smokin’ Southern Cantina was available as Sutton and city leaders kicked off the weekend with a news conference at the distillery.
“To be invited to be a part of an event like this where we’re bringing in folks from across the country to learn about Statesville and what we do here, we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” said Vienna Barger of Southern Distillery.
The travel journalists’ agenda for the weekend isn’t just food and drink, either. The city’s hot air ballooning traditions were on display, as well as a trip to the Fort Dobbs Historical Site. Writers were also given credit to shop in downtown Statesville as well.
At the event on Friday, Mayor Costi Kutteh also declared the Statesville as the Balloon Capital of the East and congratulated the balloon pilots and related industries in the area. The state’s general assembly recently declared Statesville’s Balloon Fest as the official balloon rally of the state of North Carolina in April.
Where it all comes together
The alliteration of Bourbon, Balloons & Battles was serendipitous, according to Sutton.
Montgolfier Day is Nov. 21, which naturally was already attracting balloon enthusiasts to the area. Sutton said the SCVB received the grant knowing they had limited time to use it but also saw the ballooning as part of the city’s tourism charm.
The venue of Southern Distilling seemed like a natural option, as well as the fact it was preparing for a bourbon tasting to show off a new spirit, Southern Star Paragon Wheated Straight Bourbon Whiskey. That gave the event two of the three b’s. The Battles came from Fort Dobbs, a suggestion from Visit North Carolina.
“It really just evolved... where it all comes together,” Sutton said, referring to the visitor board’s slogan.
The event and subsequent advertising are done with funds from the North Carolina Travel Industry Association, provided by the CARES Act. The hope is the profile of Statesville’s tourism will be elevated and kickstart the hospitality industry that sagged under nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Balloon Fest has been canceled the past two years due to concerns with the virus.
“We were very pleased to award the Statesville Convention and Visitors Bureau a grant provided by the N.C. General Assembly to promote Statesville as a wonderful destination for visitors. The Statesville CVB has developed a plan that will bring more attention to the amazing events, visitor attractions, and interesting history that’s uniquely Statesville. We are very happy they could put the funds to good use,” Vince Chelena said. He is the executive director of the North Carolina Travel Industry Association.
Follow Ben Gibson on Facebook and Twitter at @BenGibsonSRL