Welcome Center Love Letters

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By Nicole S. Johnson

Director of Tourism

    On Wednesday, May 3 at 11 a.m., Bedford’s first set of LOVE letters were revealed. 
    The “reveal” was part of a special ceremony held at the Bedford Area Welcome Center and included the students from Liberty High School and Bedford Science and Technology Center who worked for months on this project.  The LOVE letters are part of a state-wide Virginia Tourism Corporation initiative launched in 2012 for towns and cities across Virginia to show their pride and promote tourism in their community. 
    The design was done completely by Leslie’s Bowyer’s art students at LHS as part of a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant.  The LOVE letters showcase many of our tourism assets, including Smith Mountain Lake, the Peaks of Otter, National D-Day Memorial, our wineries and orchards, the artisan community, Poplar Forest, and our historic Centertown. The event was well attended by town, county, and Bedford County Public School officials, and also the President of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. 
    The event received great coverage on all the local news media outlets, which I believe added to the student experience as they were interviewed on camera about the project.  “I love it. I knew it was going to be amazing but I didn’t know it was going to be glorious,” said ninth-grader Macayla Lindy, who helped design the letters. 
    Student Landon Cheek, who also spoke during the program, felt excited to have been part of something special for the Bedford community.  “As we move into our futures, we’ll always remember what we did here in Bedford, and how we made a huge contribution to the community and we want to always remember that for the future generations,” he said during an interview. 
    Those of us at the Welcome Center and Department of Tourism can’t say thank you enough to all who were involved in this important project.  Everyone is encouraged to come out and see the letters, take a photo, and share with your friends on social media. Remember to use #LOVEBedfordVA, #LOVEVA, and #VisitBedfordVA! 
    National Travel and Tourism Week was May 7-13, 2017, and to help mark the occasion, the tourism department launched its very first e-newsletter.  The link was shared on the Visit Bedford Virginia Facebook page and received a very positive response.  
    In March, the Welcome Center began collecting email addresses on the visitor sign-in sheet and the goal is to compile a list of email subscribers that can be kept in-the-know of special events happening in Bedford throughout the year. It’s also a great resource for local residents, and a link is now available on the VisitBedford.com website where anyone can sign-up.  Emails will be sent once or twice per month and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    In the April update I mentioned that tourism was alive and well in Bedford.  I’m happy to report that on May 8, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that Virginia’s tourism revenue reached $24 billion in 2016, a 3.3 percent increase over 2015, outpacing the national growth rate of 2.7 percent.    Virginia welcomed more than 45 million visitors from across the United States last year.  In 2016, domestic travelers spent nearly $65 million per day across the Commonwealth.  “Tourism is one of the five largest industries in Virginia and plays a critical role in our economic vitality,” said Todd Haymore, Secretary of Commerce and Trade.  It’s wonderful to see these numbers which confirm that Virginia is truly a destination, and that we are part of that.  The full article is available at governor.virginia.gov/newsroom.   
    Another report released by the National Park Service stated that the Blue Ridge Parkway led the nation’s park system in visitor spending in the communities off the famous drive, with $979.33 million in 2016. This is the highest rate of spending in the past five years.  Bedford is accessible from at least three points along the Parkway.  We are fortunate to have the Peaks of Otter Lodge in Bedford, as they are the only hotel located on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. 
    Travelers are getting off the Parkway and making the short trip into Bedford. Many are coming into the Welcome Center and obtaining information about other things to do here.  With our many attractions and restaurants, we are definitely able to offer travelers more options for spending when they visit.  I believe when the new brewery opens in June it will draw even more people off the Parkway into our downtown area.  It’s important to keep in mind that our industry is one that relies on human interaction—whether it’s the front desk clerk at a hotel, a tour guide at a historic site, a server at a local restaurant, or a customer service representative at a welcome center or local business, our people are what make Bedford a great place to visit.