For Lovers Worldwide

Valley Tourism to Increase Courtship Outside U.S. Border

Posted: October 29, 2012

Canadian visitor Irina Gilman, from Montreal, examines Hispanic quilts during the afternoon of Sept. 20 at the Los Hilos de la Vida Threads of Life Hispanic quilt exhibit at the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Michael Reilly)

Tourism officials in the Shenandoah Valley are reaching beyond the nation’s borders to attract travelers.

The push is part of a statewide effort to position Virginia as a top travel destination for foreigners.

For the Valley, that means marketing the region’s offerings — especially its historical and outdoor opportunities — well outside of Virginia and the metro Washington, D.C., area.

Wooing the World

“For the past two or three years, and particularly this year, [we have] shifted our marketing in several ways,” said Zenaida Hall, director of the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association. “D.C. is still the primary market, but we’re [also] looking internationally.”

In particular, the SVTA is looking north to Canada, where Interstate 81 ends at its northern terminus. The highway, which winds through the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester to Roanoke, is a popular route for Canadians driving to and from Florida.

Statewide, international visitors spent a record $390 million in Virginia last year, a 21 percent increase from 2010. Tourists from Canada spent the most at about $148 million, up 11 percent over the previous year, according to economic data released in September by Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.

International tourism figures for the Shenandoah Valley were not available. However, overall tourism revenues for the Valley surpassed $2 billion last year, an 8.6 percent jump from 2010. Tourism-supported jobs exceeded 20,000 regionally.

As part of the SVTA’s efforts to ramp up international marketing, Hall made a trip to Canada with the Virginia Tourism Corporation this month to meet with travel trade organizers and media. It marked the SVTA’s first Canadian trip, but more are likely to follow, Hall said.

“We’re planning to do more media and sales missions and really think out of the box,” she said. “In addition to pushing marketing, there’s a lot of media outreach by the association.”

Tourists Explore Options

It’s well known in the tourism industry that international travelers generally stay longer and spend more. In 2011, the average length of stay in Virginia for international visitors was 14 days.

And while they might not spend two weeks in the Valley, overseas tourists who fly into Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., are more likely to branch out and spend a few nights in other areas within close driving proximity of the nation’s capital.

“Sometimes, they’re here [in the U.S.] on holiday for a month,” said Brenda Black, executive director of Harrisonburg Tourism. “They’re coming into our area and then maybe down to Charlottesville. We know travelers want to explore a little more in the region.”

Both the SVTA and Harrisonburg Tourism — in conjunction with the Virginia Tourism Corp., the state’s tourism office — partner with Capital Region USA, a marketing organization that promotes Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland internationally.

Spotlighting Local Attractions

Last year, Harrisonburg Tourism ran a monthlong media blitz in D.C., advertising at the Metro Center.
“So when you came off the subway,” Black said, “you saw our marketing [materials] and banners.”

The city’s tourism office has emphasized the central Valley’s growing reputation as a cycling destination in marketing to Canadian travelers. Cycling events, she noted, are especially popular among Canadian visitors.

Building name recognition for the Valley and its communities is among the SVTA’s top marketing priorities, Hall said.

That means highlighting specific places, such as downtown Harrisonburg, and landmarks that showcase the region as a four-season destination.

“We, as a region, have really matured and have more to offer than in years past in terms of what’s known and visible,” Hall said. “That’s the dialogue we want out there about the Shenandoah Valley.”

Contact Doug Manners at 574-6293 or

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