The Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority (BRTDA) is excited to embark on a fresh partnership program with the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at Appalachian State University. This new program will offer regular academic tours of tourism-related businesses in Blowing Rock, open to students studying Hospitality and Tourism. These tours will be available once each semester. The inaugural Spring Tour, presented at the end of March 2023, was attended by fourteen students and two faculty members. It was a big hit with participating businesses and attendees.

On the Spring Tour, students got to meet several local business owners and managers at their businesses throughout the afternoon. This fast-paced dive into the Blowing Rock tourism economy offered a unique learning experience where students could see various locations, ask questions, and gain insights on operations. They also saw potential work-places first hand, which local business owners saw as an additional factor in participating in the tours.

“We were on board as soon as we heard the idea,” says Rob Dyer, co-owner of The Inn at Ragged Gardens and The Best Cellar Restaurant. “We were excited for the opportunity to meet some current students and show them around. And it was a great way to connect with the school, to be a resource for learning and employment.”

Lisa Stripling, co-owner with Dyer, agrees. “We’re both App State alums ourselves, and we are delighted to help support the students and programs at ASU,” she says. “The students we met were immediately engaged and asked great questions. With that energy, and considering what they’re learning as hospitality students, I’m sure these students would be outstanding assets as employees at businesses like ours.”

In addition to a visit to the Inn at Ragged Gardens, the spring tour included stops at Chetola Resort, Hellbender Bed & Beverage, The Speckled Trout Restaurant & Bottle Shop, Blowing Rock Art & History Museum (BRAHM), and The Blowing Rock Attraction. At BRAHM, the students heard from a forum of local retailers that included The Mountain Thread Company, J.W. Tweeds, The Last Straw, and Footsloggers.

“It was such a good day,” says Dr. Carol Kline, the Director for the Hospitality and Tourism Program at Appalachian State University. “The spring tour was expertly executed and we learned so much about on-the-ground management and marketing with this behind-the-scenes view.”

This tour program is part of increased efforts by the BRTDA to improve community communication and rapport. In keeping with its values of promoting economic growth and providing leadership in the local tourism industry, the BRTDA believes this program will help enhance the local tourism industry through improved connections.

“The High Country is a vibrant tourism destination and an ideal community classroom for students in Hospitality Management,” says Amanda Lugenbell, Assistant Director of the BRTDA and coordinator of the student tour program. “Blowing Rock in particular offers a number of models for how small businesses meet ever-changing challenges and opportunities in a resort town.”

As a graduate of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Appalachian State University, Lugenbell felt the tourism business community in Blowing Rock was an untapped educational resource. At a time when the service industry is struggling to maintain an adequate workforce, the BRTDA was also interested in finding ways to promote hospitality employment opportunities in Blowing Rock.

“Blowing Rock is full of successful hospitality businesses,” Lugenbell goes on to say. “The people behind them have so much expertise to share and we’re proud to highlight them as the business leaders they are. These students are potential employees and interns; they are also the next travelers and future business leaders. We are excited to welcome them on these tours and expose ASU students to Blowing Rock in a meaningful way.”

“It’s a great service for students to get this type of exposure to attractions and resources just down the road,” Dr. Kline adds. “We are thrilled about these tours as a new extension in our long-time relationship with the Blowing Rock TDA, and we’re grateful to the TDA for creating this opportunity for our students.”

The next tour is scheduled for the fall semester in early November. Interested Hospitality and Tourism students may make inquiries by connecting with Scott Gray, instructor in the Business Management Department at Appalachian State University. Tours are provided to students free of charge and spaces are filled on a first-come, first served basis.

Many thanks to the individual hosts on the spring tour for their time and generosity: Frank Byrd, Rob Dyer, Lisa Stripling, Hunter Womble, Emily Brinker, Erica Brinker, Michael Foreman, Brian Baldwin, Carol Dickerson, Katherine Lile, Roger Robertson, and Charlie Sellers. Much appreciation goes to BRAHM for their contribution of the Community Room for the retail panel.

April 2023
For information: Amanda Lugenbell, 828.295.4636, amanda@visitblowingrock.com