Valley tourism goes international

Shenandoah County Tourism has been actively and aggressively expanding its marketing reach in the last 12 months.

Now the county, as well as the valley, is looking to continue that expansion overseas.

Starting this year, localities within the valley will begin a partnership with Capitol Region USA, a company dedicated to promoting tourism for Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia in foreign markets such as China and the United Kingdom.

Jenna French, tourism and marketing director for Shenandoah, said that the idea to partner with Capital Region stemmed from monthly Shenandoah Valley Destination Marketing Organization meetings.

French said that Brenda Black, tourism and visitor services manager for Harrisonburg, proposed the idea to work with Capital Region to the group based on past experience.

Black said that Harrisonburg has been advertising with Capital Region for the last two years, primarily with the United Kingdom and Germany.

The idea for the co-op came from a 2014 summit hosted by Capital Region that Black attended.

“I thought we could make a great impact by doing more of a cooperative effort,” Black said.

She noted that “various DMOs” including Shenandoah County, Staunton and Rockingham County, have expressed interest in being involved.

The partnership was announced Friday in a news release from the Harrisonburg Tourism and Visitor Services.

It essentially will give relative newcomers like Shenandoah County print coverage and digital marketing reach in the company’s partnered foreign markets, said Stacey Sheetz, digital marketing director for Capital Region USA.

The first step was an article titled “Down in the Valley: Visit Shenandoah Valley” that was posted on Capital Region’s website.

The article references a number of tourist attractions and locations up and down the valley, including the Wine Trail and Luray Caverns.

Some of these attractions, such as Harrisonburg, have already benefited from Capital Region’s marketing reach.

With this effort, French and various marketing directors within Shenandoah Valley said they are hoping to tap into the growing market of international tourism.

French and her staff have seen first hand the increased interest from foreign travelers through their expanded use of social media and the redesigned website.

Over the past 12 months, French said that Shenandoah has received more requests from residents in overseas countries.

“It’s sort of a perfect storm … when you look at travel trends in the U.S., we are seeing more and more international travel,” French said, adding, “the dollar value and currency exchanges are certainly helping with that.”

According to Sheetz, the areas within Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia saw “2 million overseas travelers last year.”

Sheetz said the markets of the United Kingdom and Germany have been “good for [this] region” and that there are emerging markets, such as China, that are also helping with this growth.

French noted that the amount of activities, as well as the valley’s location, help make the region a diverse tourist destination for international visitors.

French said foreign travelers “are wanting to branch out … they also want to get a feel for the countryside.”

In particular, French said that the valley’s proximity to D.C. “and the outdoor recreation and agricultural environment gives them a nice variety when they are planning their trips.”

The hope with this partnership, French said, is that the efforts of everyone working together will benefit the individual localities through enhanced exposure.

Shenandoah County and some of its attractions will be showcased in the interactive map — “http://tinyurl.com/osmzzeq” target=”_blank”>http://tinyurl.com/osmzzeq — on Capital Region’s website “that highlights some of Virginia’s best experiences.”

Both French and Black have expressed high hopes for the potential impact this latest marketing expansion might have on the region as well as individual localities.

French said, “We are happy to get to work with our surrounding partners to promote the valley and look forward to hopefully the increased travel that this brings us.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com