The most-visited travel website in Western North Carolina, RomanticAsheville.com, has a new owner. Creator Mark File has turned over the reins of his community-driven guide to Justin Belleme, founder of JB Media Group. What began as a hobby in 2003 is now a comprehensive 800+ page travel journal that received 5.5 million visits in 2018 from 200 countries. The transfer of ownership will allow the website to continue to expand organically and take advantage of many new resources and opportunities. Photo above: Justin Belleme (left) and Mark File (right)
While File started it 16 years ago as a guide for couples visiting Asheville, the website content gradually grew to cover 16 WNC counties in response to ideas from readers and requests from local small businesses and tourism organizations. File’s hobby and passion project became his full-time business in 2014. Last year, File received the Charles Kuralt Award by the NC Travel Industry Association for bringing exceptional, positive public attention to the State of North Carolina through mass communication.
File and Belleme have supported each other during the last decade on many projects. “I certainly can’t think of a better caretaker for RomanticAsheville.com to shepherd its continued growth,” says Mark. “Justin has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and teachers.” File will foster the transition during the first year.
Tourism is certainly Belleme’s passion. Growing up in Saluda, NC, his first jobs in high school were in hospitality at the Orchard Inn and Purple Onion restaurants. In 2010 while directing marketing projects for Tupelo Honey Cafe and the Asheville CVB, he decided to launch JB Media Group. It has grown to become one of the Southeast’s leading providers of digital marketing strategy. In 2013 he co-founded the JB Media Institute, providing online training geared to small tourism businesses. In partnership with Chris Cavanaugh of Magellan Strategy Group, they produce the annual DIY Tourism and Local Marketing Workshop in Asheville which attracts leaders from across the country.
“I am so grateful to Mark for allowing me the opportunity to oversee the future of RomanticAsheville.com” says Belleme. “Our plan is to preserve the core of what makes the site so useful and helpful for locals and visitors alike, while also expanding the site to offer more content in a variety of areas. We plan to preserve the mission of the website and also continue the practice of designing content that offers a win-win for both readers and sponsors.”
“It’s been an amazing journey with tremendous support from the community,” says File. “I’ve certainly been holding its growth back since I’ve been a one-person show, and I have a long list of reader ideas and businesses that want to be included. I feel like a proud papa with a child that’s growing up fast.”
File refers to RomanticAsheville.com as a “Giving Website” since it has provided a million dollars’ worth of marketing support for 200 WNC non-profits in tourism, arts, heritage and environmental conservation during its 16 years. Belleme plans to continue this tradition. One upcoming fundraiser is the 2020 NC Waterfalls Calendar with 100% of proceeds going to five WNC land conservancies.
“Our business and community philosophies overlap tremendously,” adds File. “We both love creating partnerships, nurturing sustainable growth, and caring for our amazing area.”
The “Giving Website” mission of RomanticAsheville.com matches perfectly with Belleme since JB Media Group became a Certified B Corp last year, meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.