The Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority’s new director has 12 years of experience in marketing and public relations at a popular Wilkes County destination.
Thomas Salley, 34, is leaving a position at Raffaldini Vineyards near Ronda to become Wilkesboro TDA director. He starts in his new job on Aug. 12.
In addition to coordinating marketing and PR at Raffaldini, Salley has managed the vineyard’s guest experiences and hospitality center, Villa Raffaldini, with over 30,000 visitors annually. His official title is tasting room and media relations manager.
Salley’s work at Raffaldini equipped him with a strong marketing background and knowledge of the tourism industry, said Linda Cheek, Wilkesboro TDA board chairman and Wilkes Chamber of Commerce director.
Cheek said Salley stood out among 12 people who applied for the job of TDA director because of his education, skills and experience. Five people were interviewed.
Salley was named one of the “Top 40 Leaders Under Forty” by the Triad Business Journal in 2015. While he was at Raffaldini, the company was named one of the top 10 hot small brands in North America by Wine Business Monthly, the largest wine-industry magazine in circulation.
Salley is married and lives in West End Elkin. He was born in Albany, Ga., grew up in Orangeburg, S.C., and has a bachelor of science degree in journalism and mass communications—public relations, Spanish from the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
While a student at USC, Salley worked at a marketing and PR firm that served the Hispanic community in Columbia, S.C. He also was on the Carolina Productions Concerts Committee, assigned by USC to organize, book, promote, and execute entertainment for the student body.
As a college senior, he voluntarily mentored incoming freshmen in the PEER leader program. He started working in the hospitality and service industry part time at age 14.
Cheek said the TDA director oversees and directs branding, advertising, PR, destination brand development, Internet-related promotions, tourism research and marketing partnership programs for the Wilkesboro TDA with a goal of “creating and implementing a unified approach in marketing to attract business and transient travelers to Wilkes County, generating overnight stays.”
Expanding on that, Salley said he will advise the Wilkesboro TDA board and act on opportunities that present Wilkesboro and Wilkes County as a tourism destination, gain media coverage for the Wilkesboro TDA and its tourism partners and increase overnight stays in the Wilkesboro area. He cited goals of improving Wilkesboro’s ranking as a tourist destination, enhancing the community’s reputation and promoting resources that make it a great place to live, work and play.
Salley said he already enjoys working with TDA board members and noted their positive energy. Through their voluntary service on the TDA board and their professional careers, he added, the board members are committed to seeing Wilkesboro and Wilkes County grow.
He said the aspects of Wilkes County that he finds most engaging are its rich history; its abundant natural beauty and resources; its vibrant music, food and arts scene; and its people.
“Wilkesboro is home to a dazzling array of visual and performance art, architecture, food and wine. What other region can boast the creation of an entire genre of music?”
Salley noted the county’s miles of trails, rivers, lakes and untamed land and its “quaint shopping, gustatory delights.” He added, “Our mountain locale supplies a temperate climate to enjoy year-round the abundant natural beauty and resources, forming the backdrop of a weekend, or week-long, escape.”
As for the people of Wilkes, he said, “Mountain people are hospitable, fiercely loyal and strongly independent. They embody the American spirit…. The rebellious and independent ethos of bootleggers, racers and pioneers permeates folklore and enjoys universal appeal.”
Salley will be a TDA employee, but will be on the Town of Wilkesboro payroll with a $50,000 annual salary and full town employee benefits.
Assistant Town Manager Bob Urness said the town will be reimbursed Salley’s salary, benefits and other costs by the TDA. Urness said this arrangement allows for greater efficiency and value. The TDA otherwise “would get less bang for their buck purchasing in the open market for an individual employee,” he said.
The TDA’s administrative and tourism promotion funding comes from Wilkesboro’s 3% occupancy tax, which the town collects and passes on to the TDA.
The TDA board oversees TDA operations, including expenditure of TDA funds and employee selection, but the Wilkesboro Town Council appoints the seven-member TDA board members and can change TDA by-laws.
Salley’s predecessor was Jodi Tonsic, who resigned as TDA director in April to take the newly-created position of associate director of marketing at the Reynolda museum and garden complex in Winston-Salem.