Tourism Development Specialist
Virginia Tourism Corporation
What region do you serve? Can you just describe what that includes?
I’m in the southern central coastal region. That is Martinsville to Suffolk and all the counties off of the James River, so I basically have the border communities, some coastal communities, some central and then all of the southern Virginia region for Virginia’s tourism marketing effort.
Does every town have the potential to attract tourism?
Yes, every town has potential. They may not be the big weekend destination but they could be a really cool spoke where people will come visit and spend new money in their community.
What’s an example of a town where you went in and helped them see something that hadn’t realized was a tourism asset?
If you look at some of the smaller towns that may only have one or two things, you can get them to work together regionally. I have worked on the Tobacco Heritage Trail, which is 13 communities — a lot of those are small towns — and what we did was develop a multi-use trail that runs through the communities. It gives the communities an opportunity to then build on that, bring in entrepreneurs, new businesses, and new money. On the Tobacco Heritage Trail, we’ve had several events that have brought people in from outside and they spend money in the communities.
Do you ever tell a town that an asset is not enough of a draw? Or do you think anything can be potentially used if you market it well enough?
I might not tell them that they’re not a draw, but I might explain to them the hub-and-spoke method. A small town that doesn’t have any lodging cannot be a destination because there is no place to stay. But if it has a really cool asset or something that people will come to visit, then the town can build on that by recruiting coffee shops and craft breweries and things like that. At that point, that little town becomes a destination because there are a lot of things for people to come and do. They only have one asset to start off with, that really cool spoke, and then we can turn it into a hub.
Is there an example of a town you’ve helped that’s done a really good job?
The town of Clarksville — which is the only town in Virginia that is on a lake — they have been bringing in businesses and they now have a brewery. The brewery is expanding; It’s going to have a site on the lake. And also there are restaurants in the downtown. Hilltop Winery expanded from Nelson County and bought a tasting room in the downtown area. They just opened a coffee shop. Clarksville is a perfect example. They are right there on the lake, that’s their draw. Now they need to capture those people when they’re coming into town and get them to spend their money. They’ve got great little boutiques and shops in the downtown area. So I would say that would be one of the example of things of the towns that looked at their assets.
What’s your favorite little thing that you’ve found in a town as a tourist draw?
The town of Smithfield, I like that it’s a quaint little town. It’s a walkable community, it’s on the water, they have several good restaurants. With Clarksville, the same thing, it’s on the water and they have a lot of things — I guess I’m drawn to water. But then I love the town of Blacksburg. I visit there quite frequently. The quaintness, I think that’s what everyone is looking for, is they’re looking for that little downtown where they can just get out and walk and enjoy.
Do you think towns make the most of the history in the region?
Yes. In the region that I work in, we are steeped in history. We have a lot of regional organizations that pulled together the history. We have historical societies that work very well with our tourism entities and a lot of those areas, because of architecture and historical significance, have either put together driving trails or walking trails. Even some of our smaller towns have walking trails that talk about the history of the town and also the architecture of the buildings, the monuments that are there and things like that. One thing I think we are seeing a move toward is making history relevant. There are a couple of museums that are looking into how to do that.
How can a community that’s maybe not incorporated achieve tourism success?
They need to rely on the tourism person for the county or the regional tourism person — some are the towns’. The larger towns that are around have to include those smaller areas. Take Meadows of Dan. It’s such a quaint, little, cute place and it’s right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a great place to get a sandwich, get back on the Parkway and have a picnic, things like that. Tourism people have to rely on those types of things. The more things there are to do in the area, the more opportunity there is that someone is going to come and visit.
What do you wish that town managers and mayors in small towns knew that they don’t know?
That tourism is economic development. Don’t overlook tourism when you’re trying to put together your strategic plan for your town or your county. You need to make sure that you are incorporating or at least making tourism part of that economic development strategy. Sometimes it’s a hard sell, because we can’t point to a building and say 500 people work there because of the tourism industry. It’s different businesses. It’s five here, two here. It’s harder to see that. Of course they should be looking at the tax dollars that are coming in and what their economic impact from tourism is because that’s new money coming into the community.
And if a mayor wanted to contact you would that be OK?
Sure, best way to contact me is email because I’m on the road all the time working in all my communities. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We have tourism development specialists spread out around the state so if I’m not the person who would be working with you, buy I could put you in touch with them.