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Tourism grant to benefit county, towns alike
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Tourism grant to benefit county, towns alike

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Franklin County Tourism has received $10,000 from the Virginia Tourism Corporation DMO WanderLove Recovery Grant Program, a new grant made available to Virginia’s Destination Marketing Organizations across the commonwealth that have been heavily impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic to fund recovery marketing initiatives.

Franklin County Tourism Director David Rotenizer said the funds will be used “to implement an innovative layering of the hub and spoke model of destination marketing.”

Funds must be used for recovery marketing and may be used for participating in the VTC co-ops, local advertising, out-of-state marketing and other allowable items.

“While the foundation to WanderLove is based on a singular hub and spoke concept, we have expanded the concept by creating a geographic based county level approach,” Rotenizer said, adding the county’s two towns — Boones Mill and Rocky Mount — will be partners in in the project. “Rocky Mount, the county seat and geographically center, is naturally our hub. From here, we provide four spokes, which also function respectably as hubs. Each of these possesses their own set of six spokes respectively. The objective here is to provide a rich menu of offerings that allows visitors to pick and choose the aspects that speak to them. However, to accommodate those seeking a less mentally demanding menu offering, we have two spokes created just for the task: One is a simple, relaxing, scenic drive route and the other is a duo of adrenaline pumping and extreme sport-based wake boarding opportunities.”

Boones Mill Town Manager B.T. Fitzpatrick said he is excited to partner with Rotenizer and Town of Rocky Mount Economic Development Director Beth Campos on the project.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Boones Mill, Rocky Mount and Franklin County to work together on a project which will benefit the region as a whole,” Fitzpatrick said. “It shows our three localities unity to make the region better.”

Campos said she too is excited about the partnership and hopes to highlight the area’s “small businesses, outdoor experiences, scenic drives, agritourism and hidden gems.”

Rotenizer explained technology will play a role with the integration of cutting-edge geographic information system-based technology in the format of story mapping.

“Amplified with sharp digital imagery and customized brief video clips, as well as some drone footage tailored for this project will bring forth a new and exciting perspective to the magic that is Franklin County,” Rotenizer said. “The technology approach of story maps in tourism is an emerging concept and is sure to be a memorable aspect to the project, though the county was an early innovator when it partnered with Bedford County Tourism during a joint heritage tourism initiative in 2016.”

Fitzpatrick said, as someone with a lot of GIS experience, he feels the GIS component will be an innovative part of the final product.

While details are still being worked out and plans finalized, Rotenizer said he hopes to be able to highlight or somehow incorporate other road trip assets such as the Crooked Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway as it weaves through Franklin County.

“Hopefully that will allow people to see ‘wow there is so much to do here’ and want to come back or do more here,” he said.

The advertising campaign will run on premium websites and are optimized via algorithms. Rotenizer said because each ad will be highly targeted to the needs of Franklin County Tourism, “the grant will enable the county to secure a good return on its marketing investment to draw visitation and spending here.”

Gov. Ralph Northam announced July 22 that more than $866,000 in marketing grant funds were awarded to DMOs as part of the WanderLove program.

“Tourism is one of the largest sectors of Virginia’s economy, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the industry,” Northam said. “ Travel will look different for as long as this virus is with us, and many Virginians are seeking getaways that are closer to home. The WanderLove Recovery Grants will help our localities prepare for a rebound in tourism, market their destinations as safe and accessible and drive new economic activity as we gradually welcome visitors back to our Commonwealth.”

Tourism is one of Virginia’s largest economic engines, with visitors to Franklin County spending more than $116 million in 2018, supporting more than 1,300 work opportunities and contributing more than $7.9 million in local and state tax revenue.

As Virginia begins reopening, there is a lot of pent-up demand for leisure travel and people are seeking safe, close-to-home destinations that allow for social distancing and access to open spaces. With this in mind, the WanderLove campaign provides travel inspiration for road trips, outdoor recreation, hidden gems, small towns and Virginia’s signature LOVEworks program. Rotenizer said he hopes to target visitors from highly populated urban areas within the two- to three-hour driving distance such as Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

Franklin County’s WanderLove program will aim to dovetail Smith Mountain Lake’s WanderLove program. The Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce was awarded a $9,995 grant from the VTC.

The county’s WanderLove program is scheduled to launch this fall, but a date had not yet been determined. Rotenizer added they are monitoring data related to COVID-19 and travel.

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