WINCHESTER — In December 2018, the Winchester-Frederick County Tourism Board adopted a strategic plan to boost local tourism revenues. But as the saying goes, man plans and God laughs.
Just a little more than a year into the three-year plan, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and brought tourism to a screeching halt. The board had no choice but to sideline most elements of its strategic plan.
So the board is revisiting the plan and updating it to address the multitude of changes that COVID-19 has brought to the tourism industry.
Don Anderson of Destination Consultancy Group in Texas, who helped the Tourism Board draft its first-ever strategic plan three years ago, returned to Winchester on Thursday morning to begin an update of the plan and to discuss the types of things that travelers can do safely in Winchester and Frederick County while still faced with the threat of the coronavirus.
Anderson started by listing goals from the first strategic plan that were accomplished despite the pandemic. Most notably, the Tourism Board convinced government leaders in the two jurisdictions it serves, Winchester and Frederick County, to boost its annual funding by giving the board a percentage of each locality’s lodging tax. That extra cash made it possible for the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau to hire a third full-time staff member and for the Tourism Board to oversee a well-received promotional campaign touting the area’s outdoor recreational opportunities that could be enjoyed safely despite COVID-19.
But there is still a lot of work to be done to follow through on the first strategic plan’s unrealized goals and to determine the best way to bolster local tourism revenues for the next three years and beyond.
Tourism Board Chairwoman Lani Pendleton said it’s important for local residents to buy into the plan, so she suggested the board educate the community about what makes Winchester and Frederick County unique so they, in turn, can tout the region to others who don’t live here.
Anderson said some of the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s top attributes are farms and orchards, amateur and scholastic sporting events, history, and arts and entertainment.
“It’s about our culture, it’s about our lifestyle,” Anderson told the board.
He also noted that taxes collected from tourists support local communities. Without those proceeds, localities would have to assess higher real estate taxes on residents because local governments wouldn’t have enough money to pay for community services and infrastructure. Anderson said if local residents understand they pay less in tax thanks to tourism revenues, they should be more inclined to support initiatives to increase the area’s number of annual visitors.
“We’re the great facilitator,” he said.
Board member Gwen Walker said the board should determine the specific things that make Winchester and Frederick County a unique destination. The Convention and Visitors Bureau’s current marketing campaign is “Uncommon to the Core,” so she said it’s important to understand what makes the area special and to then promote those attributes.
Anderson agreed: “We need to be known for something.”
For example, the board may want to do more to promote local breweries. Holly Redding, founder of Winchester Brew Works and a liaison to the Tourism Board, said there will soon be five beer-making establishments in downtown Winchester. That could be enticing to any beer lover who wants to visit the city for a few days to sample the local brews.
Thursday’s discussion was just the starting point for updating the board’s strategic plan. Anderson said he’ll return by the end of November with a draft of the new plan and to incorporate any additional feedback he receives from board members.