WINCHESTER — The Winchester-Frederick County Tourism Board wants to use a boost in its budget to spotlight more of what the Northern Shenandoah Valley has to offer.
Justin Kerns, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said on Thursday the board is considering the formation of subcommittees to market the area’s sports and agricultural offerings.
The Tourism Board’s extra cash is courtesy of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors’ decision to increase the county’s lodging tax from 2.5% to 3.5% in fiscal year 2020, which began on July 1. State code mandates that any amount above 2% must be earmarked for tourism spending, so the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau expects to receive $420,000 to $470,000 in additional money this fiscal year.
The bureau is jointly funded by the county and city. For the past decade, each locality has given the organization $150,500 per year, resulting in a total annual tourism budget of $301,000. While Frederick County upped its funding ante for FY 2020, Winchester’s City Council continued with its standard contribution.
Since the Tourism Board is guaranteed a minimum of $420,000 in additional funds from the county’s increased lodging tax, its total budget for FY 2020 will be at least $721,000 but could go as high as $771,000.
Currently, most visitors come to the Winchester area because of its history and outdoor activities, but Kerns said there are other reasons to visit that haven’t been adequately advertised.
One of those is agritourism.
“We have a good number of farm markets, orchards, pick-you-own places, wineries, breweries,” Kerns said. “But they haven’t been combined as a resource before, and we haven’t really made an effort to bring all those players together and have them work together.”
If agritourism brings more money to the region, additional agricultural operations may see the value in opening their gates to guests.
“It’s expensive and it’s hard to be a farmer,” Kerns said. “Sometimes, agritourism can be that additional component that will allow you to survive.”
Sports could also make the Winchester area a tourism destination.
“A lot of money is made from smaller, regional events like a round-robin tournament where people have to spend a night or two,” Kerns said. “That’s where we can make an impact.”
The combined recreational assets of Winchester, Frederick County and Shenandoah University could host a number of sporting events — baseball, soccer, lacrosse, BMX racing, horseshoe pitching and more — that would attract players and fans from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
“We have a lot of unique assets here, and we’re easily accessible from interstates 81 and 66,” Kerns said. “We just need to pull those assets together and coordinate all these different entities.”
However, the two full-time staff members of the Convention and Visitors Bureau are already stretched too thin to adequately market sports and agritourism opportunities, so the Tourism Board may step in to help by forming the two new subcommittees.
“That’s a lot of new goals to tackle with the existing staff,” board Chairwoman Kristen Laise said on Thursday. “We know these are big topics.”
At the moment, though, the board itself is also shorthanded. Kerns said two of its nine seats are vacant because City Council has not yet interviewed potential candidates for the positions.
The board is also waiting to present its proposed strategic plan to council. The plan, which was completed in December, details ideas for increasing local tourism revenues by promoting more of what Winchester and Frederick County have to offer.
After the plan was presented to county supervisors in February, the board decided to increase its Convention and Visitors Bureau funding by raising the local lodging tax.
Attending Thursday morning’s Tourism Board meeting in the Winchester-Frederick County Visitors Center were Chairwoman Kristen Laise and members Andy Gyurisin, Priya Patel, Karen Helm and Lani Pendleton. Eddie Richard and Shannon Moeck were absent.