States promotes area’s tourism industry

Published 7:35 pm Monday, August 16, 2010

Regional tourism executives converged on Smithfield last week, hoping to learn more about how to attract customers to their businesses.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation held a tourism help desk at the Smithfield Center on Thursday and invited local businesses to get free advice on building their marketing plans, pulling in grant funding, expanding their online reach and ultimately bringing in more people.

Several Suffolk businesses, including the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, Suffolk Museum and Red Thread Studio, were in attendance.

“One of the reasons Suffolk Center was initiated and supported by the city was to drive the economic engine of downtown through tourism,” SCCA executive director Paul Lasakow said. “The more people we bring to downtown Suffolk to see what we all have to offer, the better.”

The state tourism corporation holds about 10 such events a year throughout the state, partnering with venues to provide the location and catering companies to provide refreshments.

“It used to be people came to Tourism for orientation,” said Wirt Confroy, director of outreach for the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “We decided to bag it and come to the people. We reach so many more people this way.”

Each table in the Suffolk Center on Thursday represented a different benefit offered by the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The corporation offers free web and travel guide listings, training, grant opportunities, research help and numerous other benefits to tourism-related businesses in the commonwealth — everything from fast food to thrift stores, outdoor trails to antique shops, hotels to event venues.

“Everybody has a different need,” Confroy said, adding that visitors could hit every table or simply pick and choose the ones they needed.

Lasakow used the event to get information on cooperative advertising, sign up for customer service training and list the restored high school in the Virginia Production Services Directory, which is provided to filmmakers to give them ideas on where to shoot footage.

“This is really a good program,” Lasakow said. “It’s helping local businesses figure out the broader issue of tourism and how to benefit from that.”

Angelia Armstrong, owner of the Red Thread Studio, said she visited the event to support tourism and pick up a few ideas for her own business, which recently reopened after a fire last year.

“They seem to have a lot of information,” she said, adding that she got tips on matching grants, cooperative advertising and more. “They have a lot of programs.”

For more information on the Virginia Tourism Corporation, visit www.virginia.org.