Just spending time on the Downtown Blog, I have observed that Harrisonburg is realizing, “YES Virginia, we are one of the State’s most unique travel destinations.” Opportunities to promote the City’s vibrancy and community culture are growing by leaps and bounds. An excellent example of cooperative promotion is the recent Blue Ridge Parkway Familiarization (FAM) Tour.
What is a familiarization tour? Simply put, it is an opportunity to market your destination or attraction to travel staff from other places. In this case, we hosted the American Automobile Association and Canadian Automobile Association (known respectively as AAA and CAA Auto Clubs) travel specialists that work directly with millions of members.
On Monday, the Downtown Dining Alliance, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and Harrisonburg Tourism & Visitor Services hosted a group of 30, representing ten states and Canada on the 2011 Blue Ridge Parkway AAA/CAA FAM Tour.
For the last 12 years, the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, in partnership with Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive, hosted travel staff from across the United States and Canada to tour the region covered by the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. Harrisonburg Tourism has requested a stop in the ‘burg for the last three years. Harrisonburg was included this year as a lunch stop.
For those of you that think AAA is a little old school- think again, with over 51 million members, it represents the largest driving force in individual and family travel services. In addition to travel services, discounts and tour books, AAA has over a century of advocacy on behalf of the concerns of motorists.
Research in the 1990s led AAA to pursue an issue of importance to US motorists: a transportation crisis resulting from infrastructure that had been under-funded for many years. AAA Research led to shaping landmark legislation: the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998. As many of you know, the City of Harrisonburg derived partial funding to renovate and restore the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center through TEA-21 grants.
So, what draws visitors from all over the United States and Canada to Harrisonburg, VA?
Historic downtown Harrisonburg– There are so many locally owned unique places. Harrisonburg Tourism promotes Do Downtown. Inviting and walkable, offering great variety, everyone on the tour enjoyed Harrisonburg’s historic district surrounded by restored architecture and novel shops, locally owned dining, vibrant museums and art galleries. Downtown offers self-guided walking tours, historic churches, farmers market, and pocket parks. Annual events representing the arts, music and culinary experiences are a huge selling point, as well as our local holiday festivities and eclectic Americana celebrations like Valley 4th. With the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center located in the district, Harrisonburg Tourism’s staff is uniquely positioned to direct visitors to local businesses.
Outdoor Recreation– Harrisonburg is just minutes from the famed Shenandoah River, the beautiful Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive and within reach of the wild lands of the George Washington National Forest. We attract cyclists planning road trips and mountain bikers roughing it through the forest. Harrisonburg is known as the sweet spot in the Valley for all levels of cycling. It is also a destination for hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and golf. Whether its relaxation or heart pumping excitement, visitors can enjoy the range of outdoor recreation activities. And as a gateway community of the Shenandoah National Park, Harrisonburg is positioned to draw visitors from the 75th Anniversary Celebrations.
History and Heritage –Again unique and accessible, we offered the group information about the Valley’s unique religious and cultural heritage, highlighting several locations representing local heritage, early settlement and historic Harrisonburg. Civil War in Harrisonburg & Rockingham County is another opportunity to follow the trail to history. The Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County played significant roles during the war. Harrisonburg was at the crossroads of two major highways, the Valley Turnpike (modern-day Rt. 11) and the Rockingham Turnpike (modern-day Rt. 33). With six Civil War Trail signs and the Harrisonburg Rockingham Civil War Orientation Center located in historic downtown, again a huge draw for visitors during the Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War.
Culinary Tourism– Harrisonburg is a dining destination. The group was hosted by Clementine Café and the Downtown Dining Alliance to an eclectic lunch from the Artful Dodger, Stonewall Jackson Inn, Clementine Café and Kline’s Dairy Bar. Relaxing, fresh and delicious, they raved about the food and the venue! They were reminded that downtown is a dining destination with over 27 locally owned restaurants- Thai-fusion, Ethiopian, Greek, Tea and more. As matter of fact, Harrisonburg Tourism promotes the outdoor dining experience with rooftops and patios all over the City. We suggest that Harrisonburg is the dining destination in the Shenandoah Valley with flavors from locally owned restaurants , popular national chains and our seasonal favorite- Rooftop and Patio Dining.
The most frequently asked question on the tour, “Can we stay in Harrisonburg because we don’t want to leave?” Maybe next year!
Thank you to the community of Harrisonburg, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, the Downtown Dining Alliance and the staff at the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center for making Harrisonburg, VA a destination that visitors love.
Zenaida Hall is the Media and Marketing Coordinator for Harrisonburg Tourism & Visitor Services, and a member of the HDR Promotions Committee.