Plan now for the Holidays

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By Nicole S. Johnson
Director of Tourism

    It’s November which means the countdown to the holidays is on!  Have you started planning?  If you own or work for a business that depends on foot traffic, overnight stays, admission fees, etc., I encourage you to start planning now for what could be a very busy season!  I am excited to say that we placed holiday-related ads in several well-known publications targeting households in the DC Metro Market as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway audience, and as a result, calls are coming into the Welcome Center requesting more information about visiting Bedford this holiday!
    When the upcoming holidays come to mind, many think of only Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t forget that we are home to the National D-Day Memorial and their annual Veterans Day ceremony usually attracts 1,000+ and if the weather is good, numbers could top 1,500.  On Saturday, November 11, people will travel from across the region (and beyond) to be at the Memorial for Veterans Day. Businesses offering lodging might want to consider promoting a special Veterans Day weekend package.  And let us know if you do so we can help promote it.  The ceremony is from 11 a.m. - 12 p.m. and many folks will be looking for a place to go eat, shop, explore…this is where our local businesses come in!  Consider offering veteran/military-themed discounts.  Let’s keep these people in Bedford as much as possible, giving them a reason to stay.  One example of a business getting on board for Veterans Day is Beale’s, who has announced they will host an Oyster Roast with a portion of proceeds from each ticket sold to benefit the National D-Day Memorial.  This is great collaboration and I would love to see more of this!
I realize many folks travel out of town for Thanksgiving, but many people also come TO Bedford to be with family and friends.  They’ll be curious about what’s new since the last time they were here. Be ready to “welcome them home for the holidays” and offer up something fun and unique!  The Peaks of Otter Lodge is sold out for Thanksgiving and plans to feed more than 800 on Thanksgiving Day alone!
    On November 25, the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting their annual Christmas Market to coincide with Small Business Saturday.  They will be tenting an area in Centertown Bedford and will have vendors, “Selfies with Santa”, carriage rides, and food trucks.  They will also be promoting the downtown businesses.  Blue Ridge Overland Gear will host a “Hangout” and gear swap at the Bedford Farmer’s Market on the same day.  I hope all of our small businesses will promote their participation in Small Business Saturday, as well as perhaps offer some fun contests or giveaway opportunities.  Think of creative ways to drive people to your business!  And, I want to mention the great collaboration of the Chamber, downtown businesses, and Blue Ridge Overland Gear for working to make Small Business Saturday even bigger and better this year!
    I know that most businesses are on Facebook, and as the manager of the page you are provided insights which indicate what people are responding to.  Don’t ignore this.  Use it to your advantage and most important, stay active on social media.  Create your own hashtag and use it often. It will catch on!  Use visuals such as photographs and videos whenever possible for even higher engagement.  Showcase something unique you have to offer.  And from time to time, it never hurts to reward your followers with special discounts and/or giveaways.  You will also learn that people may not always respond to what you think they will.  I have been surprised on the Visit Bedford tourism page to see very little reaction to something I thought would generate a lot of response, and then on a whim posted something because it seemed like an opportune moment, and it reached over 6,000 people in less than 24 hours. It was to help promote a new event.  So you just never know!  Have fun with it but also be sure your messaging is consistent and relevant.
    Lastly, make sure the Welcome Center has your information!  Thousands of people – locals, visitors and people looking to relocate to the area – all stop in and pick up information that is available.  We will display your information free of charge, and also help promote events.  Include us on your distribution list when you have flyers, posters, etc.  If you are restaurant, please make sure the Welcome Center has a copy of your current menu. Also post your hours and menu online, either on social media or your website (or both).  And please make us aware of any special holiday or winter hours.
    I encourage everyone to follow Bedford Tourism on Facebook at Visit Bedford Virginia and also Bedford Area Welcome Center.  The Tourism Department also manages www.VisitBedford.com.  On the home page you can sign-up to receive our free e-newsletter which includes information about upcoming events.  
    The fall colors have finally started to peep through.  If you’re posting pictures, consider tagging Visit Bedford Virginia in your post and we may share it on our page! 
    I have mentioned just a few of the highlights for November.  Again, follow us on Facebook for more information and updates.  My next article will highlight some of the special events happening in December!