To help some of the Bay’s most beloved destinations bounce back after feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) has awarded more than $850,000 in grants to boost tourism throughout the state.
From Virginia Beach to Alexandria and many waterway spots in between, 90 destination marketing organizations (DMO) in the Commonwealth have been awarded grants up to $10,000 apiece as part of the VTC’s WanderLove Recovery Grant Program. The initiative will support destinations that have been especially hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting decreases in tourism.
Grant applicants were encouraged to focus their marketing campaigns on road trips, highlighting everything from small town getaways to outdoor adventures, for both in- and out-of-state travelers. WanderLove Recovery Grant funds are to be used for recovery marketing as part of VTC’s WanderLove campaign, which launched in June.
VTC says that the campaign “was created in response to industry research indicating that travelers will be seeking safe, close-to-home destinations that allow for social distancing and have access to open spaces like beaches, outdoor recreation, and rural experiences” and is meant to showcase the diverse trip experiences across Virginia.
At an event in Alexandria, which received a $10,000 grant, Governor Northam said the grant program will provide a much-needed boost to locations affected by the pandemic.
“The WanderLove Recovery Grants will help our localities prepare for a rebound in tourism, market their destinations as safe and accessible, and drive new economic activity as we gradually welcome visitors back to our Commonwealth.”
One town excited for such a rebound is Kilmarnock, which sits near the mouth of the Rappahannock River. Town Manager Susan Cockrell says that weathering the effects of the pandemic has been difficult, but progress is slowly being made.
“COVID certainly made business life very challenging early on with mandated closures, and we found our restaurants and lodging particularly hard hit in April and May. We are not at ‘normal’ as of yet but are in the height of the family visitation aspect of our summer season with good results.” Things are looking better in the retail sector, on the river, and at local campgrounds, Cockrell reports.
The WanderLove grant will allow the Northern Neck town to finish the year on a better note and promote the variety of activities available in the area.
“Obviously this (grant) came at a critical time, and we are grateful to Virginia Tourism Corporation for making these funds available so quickly so we can make a difference in 2020,” Cockrell says. “We are using our WanderLOVE marketing grant to showcase Kilmarnock as a great ‘hub’ for regional activities. Whether it’s family oriented or all about enjoying the great outdoors and our beautiful rivers, we have a lot of ways to make new memories without crowds or social pressures.”
Mathews, on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, has also experienced a substantial dip in economic activity since the pandemic reached the region.
“Many businesses in Mathews have been hit hard by the coronavirus as seasonal tourism stimulates our rural economy each year,” says Emily Allen, Executive Director of the Mathews County Visitor & Information Center. “Many businesses in our rural area can’t be supported from our residents alone, but rely on travelers to sustain their business and to keep locals employed. Retail and food establishments have been hit the hardest.”
While tourism and many operations aren’t yet where they need to be, Allen says that more people are catching on to Mathews as a Chesapeake destination gem.
“Lodging establishments are very busy right now, even booked for months out. People who may normally visit the city for a weekend getaway, are now looking at rural areas like Mathews.”
The Mathews County WanderLove grant of $10,000 will help support print advertising inviting visitors to safely enjoy the area’s many waterfront offerings, says Allen.
“We want to keep our visitors and community safe, AND we also realize how important tourism helps to support our economy. This is a dichotomy that we all are taking very seriously here and VTC is helping us navigate this challenge.”
To learn more about WanderLove, visit https://www.virginia.org/wanderlove.
–Laura Adams Boycourt