Founder, John Harris, Honored for Contributions to North Carolina Tourism

Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, honored John Harris as a recipient of its 2020 Winners Circle Award for his contributions to tourism in the State.

The Winners Circle Award originated in 2004 in an effort to recognize communities, organizations, events, and people in the tourism industry. Particularly those that have made significant and continuing impacts to the growth and success of North Carolina’s tourism industry. Visit North Carolina presents the award annually. Generally, it is presented at the Visit NC 365 Conference on Tourism, the largest gathering of the state’s tourism industry leaders. This year’s conference, which had been scheduled for March, was canceled due to Covid-19.

Heidi Walters, Visit NC’s Director of Partner and Industry Relations, presented the award to Harris. The ceremony took place at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the location of the Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School. In 1974, Harris founded Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head as a hang gliding school and repair shop. It has since grown to become the world’s largest hang gliding school. Kitty Hawk Kites is also the Outer Banks’ premier retail and outdoor recreational business.

John Harris in front of a hang glider at Jockeys Ridge State Park
From left to right: Heidi Walters, John Harris, Lee Nettles, and Joy Greenwood

Lee Nettles, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, was in attendance. He offered remarks about Harris’s contributions to Outer Banks tourism and also the growth of the hang gliding industry. “John’s career and life have been based around helping people discover the joy of connecting to wind and water,” Nettles said. “In doing so, John has contributed mightily to the brand of the Outer Banks. And the connection people feel with the State of North Carolina.”

For his part, Harris acknowledged the many people who provided him support, assistance, and encouragement as he grew Kitty Hawk Kites to what it is today. In particular, Harris recounted the support of Hugh Morton, the renowned photographer and owner of Grandfather Mountain. Morton allowed him to be the first person to hang glide from its 1,600-foot high rock pinnacle. “[He] really opened my eyes to the power of public relations. What you could do with a photograph and a tagline,” Harris said.