PE Visitors Center Boosting Tourism

Published 4:55 pm Thursday, August 18, 2011

PRINCE EDWARD- More people are stopping by the tourism and visitor center these days. So far, 780 guests from Virginia have signed the guest book for the year, 562 from other states and 34 from other countries. In all, 1,376 have visited the former Moore Building on Farmville's Third Street.

That's an average of 196.6 visitors a month for the first seven months, compared to 1,830 for all of 2010 or 152.5 per month.

“When I first started here, it was…Green Front hands down,” reflected Tourism and Visitor's Center Coordinator Magi Van Eps, who tracks why people come. “That's it. That's all there was, just Green Front. But then High Bridge (state park) pulled away quite quickly and now it's pretty even-whether they're coming here for Civil War history and High Bridge or for shopping, and that's mostly Green Front or antique hunting.”

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The sesquicentennial started this year with a kickoff that has also fired the imagination of Civil War enthusiasts coming here. The disappointment is that while the trial is open, visitors can't get close to the bridge because it's a construction zone. It is scheduled to open next spring.

“Next spring, this place is going to just explode,” Ms. Van Eps said.

The number of in-state visitors is also on the upswing. A couple of years ago staycation, a concerted effort to encourage Virginians to vacation at home, was coined and Ms. Van Eps noted that they started seeing a growth in the number of Virginians. This year (perhaps due to the economy) it's even stronger.

Consider the 562 visitors from other states this current year; that compares with 636 in all of 2010.

As for foreign travelers, through July, 34 visitors came from other countries, or half the total from all of the previous year. And, while it may be difficult to equal last year's total of 68 with seven of the 12 months now past, fall is when many foreign visitors arrive.

The numbers are probably a bit off the actual number of out-of-town visitors when one considers it represents those who sign the guest book. Some visitors likely never make it to the center at all.

Still, there are other tell-tale figures that show an increased interest. Comparing year to date figures from the past two years, the number of phone inquires are up from 27 to 31; mail requests are up from 7,884 to 9,562, emailed requests are up from 125 to 183, and center visits are up from 1,108 to 1,376. Overall, year-to-date inquires totaled 11,123 compared to 9,151 the past year-or an increase of 21.55 percent.

How are they finding out about the area? It's a question Ms. Van Eps has been asking guests. And, while she doesn't have comparative numbers from previous years, she estimates that 50-60 percent have found them through a print ad or through searches on the Internet.

“My whole job is to promote this area so that the whole world can find out what we have to offer, all there is to do and see, and get 'em to come here,” Ms. Van Eps said.

She offers that they only have to get them to come once; once they come, she says, they'll come back. Ms. Van Eps agrees she has a good product that she can sell.

Ms. Van Eps also cited a pro-tourism Board of Supervisors, which she noted allow the visitor's center and tourism department to do what they do-promote the area and bring people here.

The visitor's center, with the help of volunteers, is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 360 days a year. On the Tuesday The Herald talked with Ms. Van Eps, she reported 14 visitors at the center by 10:30 a.m.

“…I'm very much looking for volunteers,” she says, “partly because I need 'em, but partly because it's a fun place to be.”

(Anyone interested in volunteering or tourism information can contact the center at 434-392-1482.)