Greater Augusta Regional Tourism (GART), comprised of the Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro tourism offices, has been awarded a $50,000 grant through the GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery program. The grant will provide for a three-phased outreach program encouraging locals and visitors to discover the region as a close-to-home, safe destination for day trips and overnight travel. Recognizing the significant impact of the tourism sector on the local economy, the Region 8 GO Virginia Council and Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) approved the grant to help tourism-related businesses in the Staunton, Augusta, Waynesboro (SAW) area that have been severely affected by COVID-19 closures.
The outreach program, Reopening SAW, consists of two educational videos highlighting local businesses and their efforts to safely reopen, a micro-website serving as inspiration for potential travelers with itinerary ideas and safe activities, as well as a digital passport or coupon book connecting locals and visitors directly with the business community.
Tourism is a major economic driver in the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro region, contributing over 2,000 jobs and generating nearly $230 million in expenditures in 2018. The effect of COVID-19 resulted in lost revenues, high unemployment and, in some cases, business closures.
“We see this outreach program as a vital, first step to driving economic activity and travel to the area through education and awareness,” remarked Katie Campbell, Chair of the Greater Augusta Regional Tourism group. “And we see our role, as a regional tourism group, as an advocate and voice for area lodging properties, attractions, restaurants, and retail businesses as they continue to reopen under Forward Virginia.” Chris Kyle, Chair of the GO Virginia Region 8 Council, commented “Tourism has long been a vibrant, locally-traded sector for the Shenandoah Valley, so we are grateful GO Virginia is able to assist area businesses through this effort.”
The first phase of SAW’s outreach program launched in June with the development of a landing page focused on staycation ideas, with the idea of locals rediscovering their own backyard. A social media campaign, accompanying the landing page, focused on outdoor recreation, craft beer, farm experiences and shopping and dining. Remaining phases of the
program will coincide with Virginia’s reopening plans and lead to fostering private-sector growth and supporting the employment of residents.
The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) is a business-led initiative that was formed to foster private-sector growth and diversification across nine economic development regions in the Commonwealth. State financial incentives designated for regional projects that encourage collaboration between private sector companies, workforce, education, and government are administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
GO Virginia’s Economic Resilience and Recovery Program was specifically created to support high-impact, sector-based action plans and programming to assist firms and regions across the Commonwealth in their economic recovery.
Contact: Katie Smith-Campbell GART Chair/City of Staunton Sales & Marketing Manager (540) 332-3865 firstname.lastname@example.org