Tourism in the Area on the Rise
By Caitlin Davis
Oct 3, 2012, 12:59
Tourism in the region has increased and representatives from Petersburg Area Regional Tourism and the Crater District Planning Commission have been visiting the government meetings of localities in the region to report on that success and planned future efforts to bring visitors to the area.
Martha Burton, PART’s Director of Tourism, said she has been providing annual updates and reports to the six jurisdictions represented by the organization,
Burton said much of the recent funding received from the six localities has gone towards initiatives focused on strengthening marketing efforts to capitalize on expected interest in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which was filmed in the area.
PART even received a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation specifically intended to help the area promote the “Lincoln” connection. Grants from the Cameron foundation and an anonymous donor as well as funding from the six localities represented has also helped PART bottle interest in the film.
“We want the local governments to understand how important their local dollars are,” Burton said. “It enables us to go out and get additional funding.”
While funding from all those sources has amounted to $354,000, the economic impact of tourism last year was $316 million.
“It’s kind of a stealth economic development initiative,” Crater Planning District Commission Executive Director Dennis Morris told the Prince George County Board of Supervisors last week, referring to the promotion of tourism in the area.
He said that visitors spend money on hotels, food and shopping in the region, but don’t place strain on resources like schools and law enforcement that localities fund.
Speaking before a Hopewell City Council meeting on Tuesday, Burton said visitation to Hopewell increased in 2011, outperforming tourism to Virginia as a whole.
“Hopewell out performed the state in all areas,” Burton said.
From 2010 to 2011, Hopewell saw a 10.6 percent increase in travel expenditures, which represents direct spending by domestic travelers which include meals, lodging, public transportation, shopping, admissions, entertainment and auto transportation. There was also a 26.8 percent increase in local excise tax collected in relation to tourism to Hopewell.
Another boost to the area is foreseen as the the slated Nov. 16 release date for “Lincoln,” draws near. Parts of the movie were filmed in Petersburg and Richmond and the man the movie is based on spent three weeks of the last month of his life in the region.
Burton said PART is developing a special tour in conjunction with the release of the movie.
“Part of that is to build a Lincoln tour, Walk in Lincoln’s Final Footsteps,” Burton said. “...it will connect all the places Lincoln visited the final weeks of his life.”
Burton said that while Lincoln’s story is more focused on Hopewell and City Point, the self guided driving tour will focus on connections all six localities have to the former president.
“We’re going to be able to connect the dots and share that history with our visitors,” Burton told the Prince George County Board of Supervisors last week.
On Tuesday, Burton said the tour will take visitors to Grant’s Headquarters at City Point in Hopewell, sites where filming took place in Petersburg, the site of a military hospital at Point of Rocks in Chesterfield and to the Prince George Regional Heritage Center.
The Heritage Center has a Lincoln exhibit planned and was able to borrow some of Lincoln’s items from the Illinois museum dedicated to his legacy.
“People can take a tour that will give the story in a concise and organized way and tell the story of Lincoln here,” Burton said. “At the same time they can go into Petersburg and be able to get a sense of where the filming took place and where the actors ate and so forth.”
She told the Prince George board that the initiatives related to Lincoln will lead into 2014 and 2015, when the Civil War sesquicentennial events move into Petersburg.
As part of new tourism initiatives, Burton said PART will place an increased emphasis on creating a bigger social media and online presence. A website www.walkinlincolnsfinalfootsteps.com will launch alongside the “Lincoln” movie. Visitors to the website can download the tour onto their smart devices instead of using the paper brochure.
Burton also said grant money was used to update the current PART website, www.petersburgarea.org. The website has 750,000 visits per year.
“It hasn’t been updated since PART was established,” Burton said. “We wanted to create this new page and upgrade our regular website as well.”
In addition to the new website and updates, Burton said television marketing is expected to increase as well. Currently, PART has commercials in the Richmond area, but Burton is looking to expand.
“We want to try to do some television in the Raleigh market,” Burton said.
At the Prince George County meeting, she said that when the television ads are running, the number of visits to the website increases dramatically.
Burton said there have been many positive aspects increasing in the area, especially in Hopewell. She said with continued improvements to downtown Hopewell, she expects tourism to continue growing.
“People love that charming, main street community feel,” Burton said. “As the downtown continues to blossom that will be a major asset for the city.”
Hopewell City Manager and PART board member Ed Daley echoed Burton, saying downtown will be essential to tourism.
He said one of council’s primary goals in restoring the Beacon Theatre is to create a space in Hopewell to bring people to the area, rather than sending them elsewhere for events.
“We need to have those facilities here,” Daley said.
Daley, like Burton, said the “Lincoln” movie will increase tourism to Hopewell.
“Our key is that Lincoln was here,” Daley said. “He spent half a day in Richmond and he spent two weeks in City Point. His real time was here.”
Burton said stories, like some of the personal ones that exist of Lincoln’s final days at City Point, is what drives tourism.
“It is more than just the history,” Burton said. “There are a lot of stories here. We have the history but we have the stories.”
Burton told the Prince George board that PART is also looking into the possibility of creating a mobile visitor center, set up in a van, that can go wherever people are and take information with it.
“Whatever you need is there, it’s manned, people can get your information,” she said.
She said that with the recent emphasis the county has placed on sports tourism, the van could drive to areas where tournaments are being held to capture visitors’ interests.
“That’s an idea we’re exploring and you’re going to hear more about,” she said.
Morris told the board that the region as a whole has a lot to offer.
“When you take the entire region, we have a lot of assets,” he said.
Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor, also contributed to this article.