By Ben Orcutt - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Tourism is booming in Front Royal, with officials reporting an increase of 62 percent in visitors from last summer.
"These are the best numbers we've seen since 2005," Tourism Director Jennifer Keck said Wednesday.
Keck said there are a number of reasons for the boost.
"I think it's our location," she said. "I think it's the marketing that we're doing and some exposure. I think people are discovering us who are taking the shorter trips. Word of mouth. I think it's a combination of stuff that's working, and working in our favor because of where we're located. We don't look like everybody else either."
The big draws are Shenandoah National Park and the Shenandoah River, Keck said.
"People are coming for the history and for downtown, but mainly the outdoor stuff," she said.
They're coming from around the world, too, including places like Japan and Europe.
"They've been coming from all over -- Barbados [on Tuesday]," Keck said, adding that for its $35,000 advertising budget, the town's tourism department is getting a big bang for the buck.
"We haven't spent more, but we've been doing different advertising from when I took over," said Keck, who's closing in on three years as director. "We've gone to bigger publications in some instances like we did a couple of years with Smithsonian magazine. We've taken advantage of some other advertising opportunities that we just weren't before. I think it's helping."
The region's primary market for tourists is the Northern Virginia, Washington and Baltimore area, Keck said.
"But we also have our brochures at travel shows all across the nation and at international travel shows," she said.
A lot of people taking day trips will stop back by the Front Royal-Warren County Visitors Center at 414 E. Main St. following their trips to ask for information on things like where restaurants are located, Keck said.
"We'll see a lot of people and they've had a great time," she said, adding that many people pledge to return. "'Oh, we'll be back.' We hear that a lot. People have stopped for the first time just because they've seen the sign and never stopped. I've heard from some of the merchants on Main Street that have had good summers as well. That they haven't seen this sort of business either since they've opened or in the last several years."
It cost $8,000 for one ad in the Virginia Travel Guide, but that's the sort of publication you need to advertise in, Keck said.
"The rest of it, we just kind of divide it between magazines," Keck said, citing Blue Ridge Outdoors as one such publication.
"I think about when I look at stuff and when I keep seeing things," Keck added. "Just because I see it every month doesn't mean I'm finally gonna do that. So I think mixing it up has been beneficial. When we get leads off of certain ads, when those leads start going down, I know to switch. That happened with Smithsonian. I was in it for two years. We got tremendous response and then it hasn't been so good, so we're going to drop it this year. It's very difficult to track."
Keck said it's not uncommon for someone to say they found out about the area in a 10-year-old magazine they just happened to pick up.
The Front Royal-Warren County Visitors Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information, call 635-5788.