A regional tourism center in the valley is about to close its doors. That may sound like a retreat, but the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association (SVTA) says it is the beginning of a new strategic campaign.
Many of the hotels, restaurants, stores and attractions in Staunton are among the 300 members of the SVTA. The group has been working to promote the Shenandoah Valley for more than 85 years, but has a new plan for the years to come.
Scattered across 200 miles of western Virginia are Civil War battlefields, living-history museums, natural wonders and unique shops and restaurants. They all have the SVTA in common and the group is preparing to launch a new campaign, to market the valley as a destination region.
"Our marketing programs are going to concentrate on the D.C. market: WashingtonPost.com, Sherman's Travel, a newspaper insert program," explained SVTA Board President Sheryl Wagner. "It's primarily online and some print advertising that we're going to do."
A big chunk of the funding will come from money the association saves by closing its tourist information center in the northern valley. The visitor center in New Market opened in 1975, and in its peak saw up to 70,000 people a year. But more recently, that number is more like 20,000 a year.
"Now there are so many different visitor centers open within the valley, that it's not really necessary to have one," said Wagner. "Staunton has one, [as does] Lexington, Harrisonburg, Roanoke."
Wagner says the center drives visitors primarily to just two counties but costs $70,000 a year to operate. That is a third of SVTA's annual budget.
"We want to move forward and strategically plan for the future," Wagner said. "And market the valley, rather than offer services to visitors that are already here."
The last day for the visitor center in New Market will be August 1. It will serve as SVTA offices until the building and surrounding property sells. When it does, it could bring up to a $500,000 to the association; money that could also help marketing efforts.