By Carol Vaughn —
Two towns and the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission were awarded $10,000 grants to assist with tourism recovery.
Gov. Ralph Northam in a press release announced more than $866,000 in awards to 90 destination marketing organizations through the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s DMO WanderLove Recovery Grant Program.
The money goes to organizations heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; $10,000 was the maximum award.
The money must be used for recovery marketing.
“Tourism is one of the largest sectors of Virginia’s economy, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the industry,” Northam said, adding, “Travel will look different for as long as this virus is with us, and many Virginians are seeking getaways that are closer to home. 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.”
The tourism commission will use the money to create and market six themed trails — bike and hike, outdoor education, ecotour, beach, sunrise and sunset, and seafood.
Each trail will include various destinations on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, encouraging visitors to explore the entire peninsula.
A printed rack card will be created for each trail including a map and listing each destination.
Additionally, blog posts will expand on the information on the cards, describing each destination.
The blogs will be shared on social media and linked on the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s tourism website, visitesva.com.
Short films will be created for each themed trail. Each video will be 30 seconds or less to be social-media friendly.
Each trail was chosen to encourage travelers to enjoy the Shore’s nature and promote outdoor activities where social distancing is easy to accomplish in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 while simultaneously encouraging tourism to the area, according to a press release.
“The big trend in travel right now is road trips,” said Susannah Morey, marketing director. “Our WanderLOVE campaign will encourage travelers hitting the road this year to make some safe stops on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and bring them off of Route 13 into natural areas and small businesses in our one-of-a kind coastal towns,” she said.
“We have a very unique aspect to contribute to Virginia tourism — our nature,” said Robie Marsh, executive director. He added, “Our nature allows social distancing to happen naturally. Families can enjoy nature trails, beaches, ecotours, and more with ease knowing they’re outside, getting fresh air, and have plenty of space from those they may not know.”
The campaign will encourage social distancing and wearing masks in accordance with Northam’s executive orders.
Cape Charles Main Street will spend the money on an integrated marketing campaign centered around the theme, or ‘hub,’ Discover Cape Charles, Virginia’s Cape.
“We will be tying in our brand pillars as the ‘spokes’ of the campaign — Play, Explore, Splash, Savor, Relax, and Stay,” said Karen Zamorski, program director.
The goal is to encourage people to visit during the shoulder seasons — fall, winter, and spring — “to help our businesses not only recover short term from the impact of COVID-19 but to extend our shoulder seasons and build longer term stability,” she said.
The campaign will target residents of Richmond, Va., Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads for weekend getaways and day trips.
It will use tools including internet searches, social media, digital banner advertisements, blogs, and weekend getaway packages to drive traffic to a new website set to launch this fall.
The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce will use its grant to create roadtrip itineraries based on nature, outdoors, the Chincoteague ponies, coastal cuisine, “and that awesome small town charm we are famous for,” according to a press release.
The release went on to detail Chincoteague’s attributes:
“Chincoteague Island, Virginia’s only resort island, is perhaps the most beautiful island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. World famous for its oyster beds and clam shoals, Chincoteague is the gateway to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge which is located on the Virginia side of Assateague Island. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is also home to the world-famous Chincoteague Ponies and an award-winning beach at Assateague Island National Seashore. In addition to the unparalleled beauty of tranquil beaches with spectacular sunrises and sunsets, our islands offer diverse wildlife, fantastic woodlands and marshes, scenic water views and wild Chincoteague Ponies. Our mild year round climate is perfect for hiking and biking with miles of trails to explore. Guided and self-guided history tours and museums offer glimpses into our fascinating past while explaining our culture and heritage. Summer months are spent on or near the water….. and we have plenty of it. Boating, fishing, crabbing or clamming, kayaking, swimming, or just strolling in the surf of the Atlantic Ocean are preferred activities. When you have had enough physical activity, unwind with a little retail therapy. Small town shops beckon along Historic Downtown Main Street where you will find beautiful handcrafted jewelry, whimsical decor, or one-of-a-kind artwork from our very talented artists as a keepsake of your memorable stay in Chincoteague Island. End your day with a fabulous seafood feast from one of our many restaurants featuring the best coastal cuisine in Virginia. Oysters are what we are known for, but clams, shrimp, drum, and rockfish run a close second. Each chef has their specialty.”
Evelyn Shotwell, the chamber’s executive director, said, “Chincoteague Island is open for business and we can’t wait to see you.”
The WanderLove campaign launched on June 15 and provides inspiration for road trips, outdoor recreation, hidden gems, small towns, and the VTC’s LOVEworks program.
Chincoteague and Cape Charles both have examples of the LOVE artwork, which are popular spots for visitors to take photographs.
Chincoteague has a set of four gigantic Adirondack chairs spelling the word LOVE in the Robert Reed Downtown Waterfront Park.
Cape Charles’ LOVE sign is at Bay Avenue and Mason Avenue.
Grant recipients will be given a toolkit to help them implement WanderLove in their marketing and are encouraged to develop creative marketing campaigns centered on road trips that can be marketed to both in-state and out-of-state travelers.
“The WanderLove recovery grant was designed to stimulate economic activity this summer and beyond for travelers as they cautiously resume travel,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, adding, “Virginia destinations have worked incredibly hard to ensure the health and safety of its citizens and visitors. The WanderLove campaign is a great way to showcase a fun, relaxing Virginia vacation while also staying safe.”
Tourists visiting Virginia in 2018 spent $26 billion, supporting 236,000 jobs and contributing $1.8 billion in state and local taxes, according to the release.