The marketing expert behind last year’s Third Thursday events put on by Discover Downtown Charles Town has a new goal: She wants to help businesses throughout Jefferson County lure more tourists and keep them here – happy and spending money – for longer.
[cleeng_content id="943294227" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]Charity Beth Long’s new business, Jefferson Journeys, is a for-profit firm offering event management, marketing, event design, destination planning and more.
Her roots in this work date to 2010 when she and other members of the Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission began to revamp the Charles Town Heritage Festival.
“[It] had seen a decline in attendance and no longer reflected the heritage of the city,” Long explained. “I coordinated the effort to create a festival that would reflect Charles Town’s heritage and culture, while creating a fun environment that was appealing to locals and tourists.”
In 2011, she joined the new organization Discover Downtown Charles Town and then stepped into the president’s role. “I led Discover Downtown Charles Town’s effort to develop a Main Street program which combines preservation with economic development,” she said. “In our inaugural year we branded downtown Charles Town with a new logo, expanded our Third Thursday events, began to look at future design improvements for the district and supported businesses by increasing our social media outreach.”
Late last year, Long moved on from Discover Downtown Charles Town to launch a home-based business. Here, in her own words, Long details how her enterprise will help other businesses across the county bring in more tourism dollars:
Business name: Jefferson Journeys
Web address: Jeffersonjourneys.com and visitorinquisitor.com
Please tell us about yourself – where you grew up, other details on your background, your education and any special training.
“I have lived in Virginia [Reston, Herndon, Sterling], Pennsylvania [Greencastle and Chambersburg], Connecticut [East Haddam and New Haven] and Martinsburg. I moved to Charles Town in 2005 when my husband and I fell in love with our fixer-upper, the Brown-Shugart House.
“My dad’s family is from here and many of my relatives live in the Eastern Panhandle, so it felt like coming home. After a couple years working on the house, someone suggested that I apply for an open position on the Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission.
“I was appointed and began dedicating myself to the preservation and heritage of the region by attending conferences, reading academic journal articles, studying our history and examining how we were celebrating our heritage.”
What sets your business apart from your competitors?
“We are the only for-profit firm also dedicated to tourism management. Our services offer local stakeholders expertise on marketing, event design and implementation, and destination planning. We are also a resource for companies looking to plan conferences, tour excursions, and themed activities in our region. We have decided to not just be a consulting firm, but an innovator of new products and events that can highlight the uniqueness and authenticity of the region.
“To that end we have created the Visitor Inquisitor Passport Program – a family-friendly guide and website for fun and authentic experiences throughout Jefferson County.
The passport will lead visitors to unique vistas to discover answers to fun mystery clues and to homegrown businesses that reflect the character of the region. At every location Visitor Inquisitor “agents” will discover a one-of-a- kind stamp, making the passport a memento to cherish.
“The goal of the program is to encourage visitors to increase visitation length and discover more of Jefferson County through cross-promotion, innovative advertising and crafting a brand that emphasizes what is uniquely Jefferson.
“For participating Jefferson County business owners, municipalities and non-profits, the Visitor Inquisitor Passport Program is a marketing tool that provides our participants with a way to be discovered by tourists.
“Visitor Inquisitor participants will be sold passports at wholesale prices when they join the program and will be able to turn a profit by selling the passports. We are also seeking nonprofits and government agencies to sponsor mystery clues which will highlight landmarks and parks throughout the region. We’re in the process of seeking businesses to join the program, which will launch in September.”
What led you to this work?
“I have always loved traveling and attending festivals, so while I was in college earning my theatre degree at George Mason [University], I thought that taking some tourism classes would enhance my professional opportunities. I found that the two fields utilized similar skills, both requiring creativity, marketing savvy, collaboration and strong organizational skills. I didn’t have the opportunity to use my knowledge until I found myself leading the effort to revamp the 2010 Charles Town Heritage Festival. It was a scary and exhilarating experience, but in the end, I was hooked.”
What is a part of your business that too often gets overlooked?
“The passport part of Visitor Inquisitor people seem to understand … tourists visit local destinations and businesses to get their passport stamped, taking guests on a unique journey to discover the culture and beauty of Jefferson County.
“What is most overlooked is the cross-promotion and marketing that the program provides participating merchants, nonprofits and events. The Visitor Inquisitor Passport Program is designed to encourage economic development through tourism that serves to sustain or enhance local culture.
“By promoting our local businesses and the unique attributes of the region, we are encouraging tourists to visit, learn about Jefferson County and ultimately, spend their vacation budget here – an expanded source of revenue to the county. This is what the U.S. Travel Association calls ‘travel promotion’s virtuous cycle.’
“This is important because many businesses are struggling through this bad economy and frequently the first thing that gets dropped is the marketing budget. The Visitor Inquisitor Passport Program provides a mechanism for local businesses and events to have a serious regional and Internet presence for a fraction of the cost that would be had as an individual business. By using a cooperative marketing approach, we can spread our resources farther, reaching more markets.
“We took this one step further by designing a program that is cross-promotional. We promote the program and our participating locations, and they in turn promote Visitor Inquisitor and each other. It’s the perfect combo of traditional marketing and word of mouth.”
What future plans do you have for your business?
“The expansion of tourism offerings in the area has made it possible to launch such an endeavor. Tourists want to visit a destination that has diverse offerings and delivers an experience that is memorable. We feel that there is a strong foundation here but that there is room for growth, so our mission is to turn Jefferson County into a premier tourism destination for travelers worldwide.
“We hope to become a full-scale destination management company within the next five to 10 years by hiring six to eight full-time staff positions and gain certification from the Association of Destination Management Executives.”
Do you have a hero, mentor or someone who has inspired you?
“Tourism is a collaborative art form! I would say that what inspires me most is the end product of synergistic thinking. Every time I go to an event or destination, I am inspired to think outside of my own box and to constantly use my knowledge and experience to innovate new experiences that relate to visitors. As we change, the way we tell a destination’s story must evolve too. It’s the overall process that I find exciting!”
– Compiled by Christine Miller Ford