Your Turn — Tourism programs intended to bolster local economies

Published 8:51 am Sunday, July 24, 2022

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced updated guidance on quarantine procedures following exposure to COVID-19 in school, childcare and camp settings. This revised guidance outlines that quarantine is no longer routinely recommended after exposure to COVID-19 infected individuals in childcare, K-12 schools and camp settings.

Earlier in the year, individuals were encouraged to consider their own risk tolerance and determine what precautions made sense for them and their families. Today, vaccines, tests and treatments continue to be readily available, and, at the same time, hospitalization rates are low and the number of Virginians with natural immunity has increased. As such, it is again timely for individuals, families and employers to re-evaluate which precautions are appropriate to them.

While our communities and Commonwealth are learning to live with the pandemic, we recognize that COVID-19 continues to affect many individuals. We are encouraged by our health systems’ continued advancement in both the understanding of, and treatment for, the virus. We will continue to be vigilant about surges or new variants and any impact to our healthcare system. While maintaining that prudence, Virginia’s communities can, and should, continue a path to normalcy.

View the updated COVID-19 guidance at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/182/2022/07/COVID-19-Quarantine-Isolation-Guidance.pdf

On Monday, Gov. Youngkin announced that 27 Virginia communities will launch new tourism programs intended to bolster local economies. These programs and plans were developed through Virginia Tourism Corporation’s (VTC) DRIVE 2.0 State Tourism Plan Implementation Workshops, where community stakeholders focus on developing or enhancing tourism promotion, product development, and advocacy strategies, including specific action steps, success factors, timelines, and priorities for implementation. At the end of implementation, communities also receive a $10,000 grant to assist with further developing these plans. The implementation process provided an important opportunity for a variety of community stakeholders to come together with the common goal of growing tourism in their area. More than 1,200 community and business leaders across the state participated in the DRIVE 2.0 program and workshops.

The DRIVE 2.0 program launched at an important time for the tourism industry, as communities sought out strategies to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. DRIVE 2.0 materials provided an important resource and tool for the communities as they began recovery efforts, with a focus on the promotion of outdoor recreation and development, community support, and making the case for tourism as a driver of community and economic wellness.

The DRIVE 2.0 process, facilitated by VTC, provides communities across the state with the strategies needed to succeed in the overly competitive travel and tourism market. Using VTC’s “hub and spoke” model, which groups regional lures and attractions around the main tourism hub, participating communities developed enhanced or new tourism product development ideas totaling more than 100 new ideas and initiatives to enter the market. VTC and the participating communities used current data, trends, and research to inform their plans. Localities identified lodging and hotel development as a game-changing product development strategy, while trail development was found to be an accessible short-term strategy for attracting new travelers and boosting economic activity. Other areas of focus included entrepreneurial development, expanding restaurant and culinary options and expanding lodging offers. Promotional strategies focused heavily on the outdoors, history and live music.

In the 59th District, Albemarle County and Nelson County have completed the DRIVE 2.0 program.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation is offering a reimbursable grant program to assist small tourism-related businesses and to bolster non-peak seasonal visitation. The grant application period opens Aug. 4, with applications due by 5 p.m. on Sept. 20.

Eligible applicants should be tourism-related businesses that have 20 or fewer full-time equivalent employees and can include but are not limited to boutique retails shops; food trucks; attractions; craft breweries; distilleries; wineries; boutique lodging and bed and breakfasts(B&Bs); outfitters; and events and festivals focused on attracting visitors during low visitation times.

Examples of eligible marketing expenses include but are not limited to digital advertising; social media boosts and sponsored ads; print advertising; hiring of photographers and videographers; rack cards, printing and placement costs at Virginia Welcome Centers and Safety Rest Areas; and display and promotional materials for trade shows and events.

Components of the grant program include:

• Who is eligible: Small tourism-related business with 20 or fewer full-time equivalent employees that can include but are not limited to boutique retail; restaurants; food trucks; attractions; craft breweries; distilleries; wineries; boutique lodging and B&Bs; outfitters; and events/festivals focused on non-peak seasonal visitation.

• Additional eligibility: Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), and groups such as Planning District Commissions, Economic Development Authorities (EDA’s) and Main Street organizations.

• Application requirements: A targeted and research-based marketing plan that demonstrates how applicants will use the grant money for marketing and promotions to fulfill the purposes of the grant program.

• Match Requirement: 1:1 cash or in-kind marketing match.

• Maximum Award: $5,000

• Application Period: Opens at 9 a.m. Aug. 4, and closes at 5 p.m., Sept. 20.

• How to Apply: www.vatc.org/grants

For information and questions, please contact Staci Martin at smartin@virginia.org or call (757) 390-7330.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.