A public-private matching grant fund handed out $75,000 to groups in the Shenandoah Valley as part of the Marketing Leverage Program matching grant fund.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced the partnership between the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Marketing Leverage Program doled out $625,000 on Thursday — aimed at bringing in millions of tourism dollars to the state.
Shenandoah County matched a handful of other groups for the largest grant funding, receiving $50,000 to promote its “This is our Rush Hour” digital marketing campaign.
Jenna French, director of economic development and tourism for the county, said the campaign has morphed from running print ads to include bus wraps and videos in metro stations in Washington, D.C.
French said the county surveys visitors annually to see what brings them to the area.
“People are coming here, primarily, for the scenic drives and outdoor recreation,” French said. “ a majority of visitors come here from the city and come here to get away from the hustle and bustle to relax.”
Comparing rush hour throughout Shenandoah County compared to the gridlock of larger metro areas such as D.C. is appealing to visitors, French said.
With this funding, the county is branching out into native advertising and placing an emphasis on social media outreach.
“We love the design and creative aspect here in our office,” French said, “but there are other people who are experts when it comes to the technical skills.”
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission also received $25,000 to improve the user experience for visitors planning their vacations.
French said the website in place for the region serves as a pass-through to local sites rather than a hub for visitors to work from.
“From day one, we all recognized, for a visitor, we needed more information on the website to make it more user-friendly,” she said.
A new platform French and other county employees have been testing and will go live due to this grant, is Utrip, an itinerary generator to make the valley more accessible, she said.
The program, French said, allows visitors to plug in facts about themselves — if they’re traveling with children, pets, spouse, etc. — and their interests for Utrip to generate ideas for them to choose from.
“It helps narrow down that search for the customer so it isn’t so daunting,” she said. “If you’re coming out here and you have no knowledge of the valley, it can be difficult to know where to begin.”
Families can begin with the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, which received $5,000 to promote its Come Together! Campaign — focusing on drawing families and special kids’ rates for festival tickets.
“We want to encourage more families to come to the festival,” said Lorraine Halsted, marketing specialist for the festival. “We’ve always had this kids’ rate, but we haven’t done our best in promoting [it] to families.”
Rather than paying a babysitter to watch the kids, parents can bring their children for a discounted rate, Halsted said, creating a family experience for locals and visitors alike.