Regional leaders network during tourism luncheon

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 24, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

Prince George discuss county’s tourism strengths, importance of regionalism

VIRGINIA – Government leaders, key players in economic development, and local businesses descended on Dinwiddie County for a special tourism-oriented luncheon where communities along the Appomattox River waterway could come together to share ideas and connect as the state celebrates 50 years of its iconic “Virginia is for Lovers” slogan.

Last week’s event was put on by Petersburg Area Regional Tourism, an organization tasked with showcasing the best “PART” of each of its six member localities, Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Petersburg and Prince George, and the entire region that surrounds the Appomattox River as a whole by featuring its tourism assets and helping communities with their promotion and tourist attraction efforts.

The meeting served to highlight both the start of last week’s National Travel and Tourism Week along with the upcoming 50 Years of Love statewide campaign that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth’s well-known travel slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” which was birthed in 1969. The overarching theme, however, was to drive home to communities, local businesses, and various chambers of commerce and other organizations who support area entrepreneurs that “tourism matters.”

According to data compiled by PART, tourism generates “nearly $400 million in visitor expenditures, employs 4,000 people, and is responsible for contributing $9.5 million to the budgets” of their six member localities.

Deputy County Administrator Jeffrey Stoke chats with Tree Time Adventures developers Lesly and John Bogue during last week’s tourism event at Pamplin Historical Park. Many in attendance see Tree Time Adventures as a big gain in outdoor tourism in Prince George and the region. (Michael Campbell)

“Here in Dinwiddie, we have grown and our economy is stronger because of tourism,” county administrator Kevin Massengill shared to the audience assembled at last week’s luncheon while stressing the role each community within PART plays in regards to the overall goals of tourism in South Central Virginia.

“Each one of our municipalities has something in their plans regarding the quality of life for their residents, be it in their master plan or comprehensive plan,” he remarked. “The older I get, the more I realize how important memories are. We may not remember all of our time at work or the things that seemed important at the time but we will remember those good times and experiences and we are all part of creating those memories for our residents.”

Marta Burton, who serves as executive director of regional tourism organization, shared a poetic message about the experiences that lie in wait within the confines of the region, spanning borders. 

“Love happens when you’re in the moment and your moment awaits here,” she said energetically. “A mouthwatering meal on a patio or in a candlelit corner, a special glass of wine or a cold brew, or a special cup of coffee to start your day.  A concert on the river or at The Beacon and they play your song.”

She continued, “When you feel the adrenaline rush as the race car engine fires, or you jump and the parachute opens, or you are on that exciting zip line,” with her note about auto racing resonating with the Tommy and Judy Franklin, the owners of Dinwiddie’s Virginia Motorsports Park. “It could be a quiet moment on a kayak, or hiking or biking the trails along the rivers, through the battlefields or historic neighborhoods.  Perhaps, when you are struck by the rich history on hallowed grounds, at historic homes, courthouses, churches; stories of valor in military museums, of perseverance of African Americans.  Or your moment may come in a shop or a gallery, or when you visit a farm, meet the cows and eat ice cream, or you see the tractors and antique toys that take you back to a childhood memory, or when the giraffe playfully eats out of your hand.”

“Those are but a few of the moments that are here just for you,” she closed.

Last week’s luncheon also allowed the organization to showcase its newly revamped website, which has been modernized to feature a focus on multimedia experiences and increased user-friendliness. According to officials with the organization, the new website has simplified navigation, a host of categories where visitors can search for different things, like restaurants, historic attractions, wineries and breweries, and a host of others. 

Additionally, the website allows for people to create their pseudo-travel wishlist where users can highlight specific locations or events and then save that information for trip planning or print it off in one location with ease. Local organizations will also be able to submit their upcoming events to the website for promotion and addition to their calendar.

Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO Rita McClenney’s remarks at the event served as almost a pep rally around tourism, energizing the communities about the importance of tourism and what each of them brings to the table locally and across the state. (Michael Campbell)

Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO Rita McClenney served as the keynote speaker to the room of over 50 tourism stakeholders, reminding them how vital tourism is to local economies, particularly when it comes to tax revenue.

“Tourism is an instant revenue generator, and that money is in your account 90 days after the transaction,” she said referring to sales and other taxes that tourism dollars can affect for communities. “90 days after that customer pays you, you have it in your bucket in your locality and that is valuable.”

According to data from the state, specifically in Central Virginia, which includes the communities represented by PART, as far north as Henrico, along with some localities just west of the Richmond-Metro area, the average travel party spends just over $700 per trip in Virginia, with the majority either visiting relatives, partaking in outdoor recreation, to sightseeing.

Overall, across the commonwealth, “Domestic travel expenditures directly supported 232,200 jobs within Virginia in 2017, comprising 7.2 percent of total private industry employment in Virginia” with the travel industry serving as the “fifth largest private employer in Virginia.”

In addition, “Forty-three counties and independent cities in Virginia realized one thousand or more jobs that were directly supported by domestic travelers during 2017.”

McClenney continued, “Tourism is getting more and more known for its ability to build communities because when you invest in yourself, you have also invested in your residents. Building a world-class attraction is something to celebrate.”

Tourism has been a topic of conversation for Prince George County for a number of years as the county offers a wide range of assets for tourists to partake in, from sports to history, to recreation, something Prince George Deputy County Administrator Jeff Stoke believes is a strength for the county.

“We try to take care of different sectors,” he detailed. “When someone comes in for a sports tourism tournament, they are not going to be at that tournament the entire time as they may lose early or have a big break between games, which is an opportunity to go to Tree Time Adventures, go to the Prince George Regional Heritage Center, go to Swaders Sports Park, and enjoy other assets.”

Stoke continued, “We have a brochure that we print out for sports tourism that gives discounts at the different restaurants and activities in the county. Maybe you want to see a movie or its very hot out and you want to eat at a nice restaurant in Prince George County, we can accommodate those needs.”

On hand for last week’s luncheon was John Bogue, owner, and operator of Tree Time Adventures, the new treetop adventure park currently under development at Scott Memorial Park. Speaking with county leaders and representatives from neighboring communities, Bogue said he is excited to offer a new attraction to Prince George and beyond.

“We don’t just want to be an attraction, we want to be a premier attraction,” he remarked, noting they are eyeing a late May to June opening for the park, in time for the end of the school year for area students.

Another concept discussed among leaders was a realization and understanding that tourists don’t see borders and they will travel to multiple communities to enjoy experiences, which is why regional cooperation like those found in PART help not only Prince George, but their neighbors as well.

Delegate Lashrecse Aird (D-63) chats with Tommy and Judy Franklin, the owners of Virginia Motorsports Park as last week’s event served as a key networking opportunity for those in attendance. (Michael Campbell)

“It is important to us because we realize tourists don’t stay within municipal boundaries, they cross them all the time and they don’t care where an activity is,” he said. “So someone that is doing sports tourism in our area may cross the line to go to a restaurant and vice versa. We want to encourage that cross-area activity across the region so that we are all stronger because of it.”

While local sales taxes from tourism are important, which McClenney alluded to during her remarks, some counties, Prince George included, also utilize meals and lodging taxes to further fund growth of its tourism priorities. 

“Within Prince George County, all lodging taxes go directly to tourism and all of the meals tax goes directly to economic development so, it is sort of cyclical in the fact that, as we make each of those components stronger, we can actually do more things with those assets,” the deputy county administrator explained.

Much of the region will be hosting celebrations in conjunction with the 50 Days of Love tourism campaign, with many of those events being featured on PART’s newly revamped website. To find events in your area or to learn more about regional tourism in South Central Virginia, visit Petersburg Area Regional Tourism’s website at http://petersburgarea.org.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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