Howdy! I love exploring and helping others do the same. Lucky for me, I made a career doing that. Here’s my journey.
Biography Short Version
I’m a North Carolina native with an early passion for planning trips and traveling the state. While attending Catawba College in Salisbury, I started my career in tourism at the NC Transportation Museum. After college, I moved to Wilmington to manage a Cape Fear Camera store and photo lab in historic downtown Wilmington in the early 1990s. Next, I headed back to the Piedmont to help reopen Chinqua-Penn Plantation museum in Reidsville – directing retail, events and public relations. I started my Asheville adventures as marketing director of Richmond Hill Inn in 1997. While at the inn, I created RomanticAsheville.com Travel Guide in 2003. I moved back to Greensboro in 2004 to become the Director of Marketing for Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels in Greensboro. Meanwhile, RomanticAsheville.com grew organically to include 16 counties of WNC with 5.5 annual million visits. In 2018, I was honored with the CHARLES KURALT AWARD by the NC Travel Industry Association for bringing exceptional, positive public attention to North Carolina. I sold RomanticAsheville.com in 2019 and plan to focus on a variety of travel marketing projects.
Mark File Biography Extended Version
I’m a North Carolina native with many wonderful memories of traveling the Blue Ridge Mountains and North Carolina coast as a youngster with my trusty Kodak Instamatic 126 Camera. While attending Catawba College in Salisbury, I kicked off my career in tourism at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer (mid 1980s), giving tours and organizing train excursions. My love for photography and writing also flourished as I helped to publish the college newspaper and yearbook. Summers were spent on Wrightsville Beach helping my aunt run her vintage inn that was built in 1940s. From cleaning restrooms to meeting visitors from around the world, I quickly earned a great respect for hard working innkeepers.
After college, I moved to Wilmington to manage a camera retail store and one-hour photo lab in downtown (Cape Fear Camera) in the early 1990s. That was back with in the day of film! Since many of my customers were tourists, I was constantly giving travel advice and teaching them to capture great souvenir photos. While at the coast, I helped to kick-start a tourist-focused magazine.
Next, I moved back to Piedmont North Carolina to reopen Chinqua-Penn Plantation in Reidsville, a fascinating historic house museum. What a blast that was, since we were in the “sink or swim” mode to revive a tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere. Since we were a non-profit with no marketing funds, I quickly figured out the value of public relations. From taking photos and creating events to pitching all sorts of story ideas, the hard work paid off with $400,000 in PR and filming of movie Lolita on-site! I even made the cover of the local phone book (a big deal back in the 90s!). Thanks to Susan for pushing and guiding me!
I began my Asheville adventures as marketing director of Richmond Hill Inn in early 1997. What a place! The AAA Four Diamond Inn was centered around the grand Pearson Mansion built in 1889 (but sadly burned in 2009). As Director of Marketing and Public Relations, I used my grassroots type of advertising to reduce their ad spend by 55% while increasing revenue by 25%. What an honor to promote such an amazing place. During my time, I discovered the joy of tracking advertising campaigns (utilized a fleet of unique 800 numbers back then). I built the first website for the Inn in 1998. In this heyday of magazines and newspapers, I recruited $600,000+ of print media coverage, including a rare four-page Southern Living feature.
With my longtime passion for helping people creating their perfect vacation, I got insight from Mickey Mouse himself at the Disney Institute in the late 90s (before TripAdvisor and rush of online reviews).
While at the inn, I started RomanticAsheville.com in 2003 with wonderful support from the Michel family (thanks Jake and Marge!). With the impending sale of the inn, I left in 2004 to head to Greensboro to work with Dennis and Nancy at their company, Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels. Once again, I was fortunate to work with some amazing mentors as I developed a comprehensive marketing strategy for five restaurants and the O.Henry Hotel.
One of my first roles at QW was orchestrating many projects related to the design and construction of Proximity Hotel. It opened in 2007 as the “greenest” built hotel in America, earning the LEED Platinum certification by the US Green Building Council (the first hotel in America to receive). Public relations efforts after opening resulted in $1.3 million in media coverage.
At the same time, I nurtured RomanticAsheville.com as a passion project and hobby. As it grew, I reduced my roles at Quaintance-Weaver. Also during this time, I consulted with many bed and breakfast inns with website development and online marketing. Whew! That was a busy time since I had projects from Michigan to Grand Cayman.
As RomanticAsheville.com grew, it became my “full-time job” in 2014. The 800-page guide expanded to cover 16 counties in western North Carolina. It received 5.5 million visits in 2018 from 200 countries. I still can’t believe it. It has certainly given me a good excuse to travel extensively in the Blue Ridge Mountains and take plenty of photographs. I was honored to be featured as one of “Roy’s Folks” on WGHP News three times. See a fourth feature they created that includes them all.
In appreciation to a very support community in Western North Carolina, RomanticAsheville.com gave back more than $1 million in paid and in-kind sponsorships to 200 non-profits in tourism, arts, heritage and environment during the past 16 years. I used some of my 2,000+ images on RomanticAsheville.com to create a series of “Giving Calendars” as fundraisers for land conservancy and more.
In 2018, I was honored with the CHARLES KURALT AWARD by the NC Travel Industry Association for bringing exceptional, positive public attention to the State of North Carolina through some form of mass communication. Thanks to Chris Cavanaugh (left) for his nomination. And thank you to my husband David Soyars (right) for his cheerleading.
In April 2019, I sold RomanticAsheville.com. What’s next? Stay tuned….