By Terry Harris
On August 11, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced via press release that Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) has received a Mercury Award for Industry and Strategic Partnerships - the U.S. Travel Association’s most prestigious accolade - for the Commonwealth’s “WanderLove” campaign.
The 2020 campaign, a recovery initiative designed to generate immediate economic impact for local communities and encourage visitors to travel safely in response to Covid-19, delivered impressive results with more than 27 million impressions, 360,000 website visits, 2.9 million video views, 310,000 email opens, and 51,000 influencer engagements. Surry County’s DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) was a recipient of a $10,000 Recovery Grant – the maximum allowed - to that end.
Tourism Coordinator Pat Bernshausen, who applied for and received the grant for Surry County, pronounced herself “excited about the additional things this grant enabled us to do toward promoting Surry County, because Tourism is such a big part of Economic Development,” and added that she is very pleased with how the VTC WanderLove grant funds enabled her to “expand marketing efforts to a larger audience, promoting the unique attributes of the Surry community that are within driving distance for areas such as Central, Coastal and Northern Virginia travelers.”
She revealed that with the funds, two primary road trip itineraries were established through Surry County and widely publicized through magazines and newspapers including the Sussex Surry Dispatch as well as through the County Government website and Surry County Tourism website. The combination resulted in Oct 2020 - 121,448 Total Impressions, Dec 2020 – 146,017 Total Impressions, Apr 2021 – 209,594 Total Impressions – considerable and consistent growth for interest in visiting and bringing tourism dollars to Surry County.
“The WanderLOVE campaign enabled Surry to once again focus on our identity as a “day trip” or “road trip” destination during the instability that resulted from the COVID pandemic,” Bernshausen explained, “and it also encouraged our partners and stakeholders to become more involved in our marketing efforts and created a sense of teamwork. We are satisfied that the WanderLOVE campaign has helped Surry businesses minimize their losses during the pandemic and, in some cases, increase their revenues.”
“The WanderLOVE campaign was important to keep tourism sites in front of viewers, even when they weren't venturing out,” said Bacon’s Castle Site Manager Carol Wiedel. “Then it was also effective in promoting safe options for people when they were willing to start travelling again, particularly highlighting day trip opportunities in the local area.”
Governor Glenn Youngkin described Virginia Tourism’s latest Mercury award as “well-deserved recognition for the agency’s best-in-class marketing efforts,” and Caren Merrick, Secretary of Commerce and Trade said, “This innovative initiative helped to drive economic activity across the Commonwealth, injecting critical funds back into our communities and reviving an industry that had been severely affected by the pandemic. Virginia Tourism continues to deliver outstanding results, helping to attract more travelers to the Commonwealth and spurring economic growth across Virginia. We are immensely proud of this prestigious honor.”
“Tourism is one of the Commonwealth’s largest economic engines,” said Bernshausen, “so this opportunity to have additional funds to invest in tourism marketing during this time of economic hardship has been a big deal for us. We are so excited about our community and what Surry has to offer to potential travelers – and what their tourism dollars offer us toward economic growth and development.”