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Waynesboro seems to be giving up on tourist dollars: Why that’s a bad idea

Chris Graham
waynesboro
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Waynesboro seems to be headed in the direction of giving up on trying to attract tourist dollars, which, to be blunt about it, is a terrible idea, despite what we know now in terms of the hard data.

“Surveys of CTIC visitors indicate that the majority of visitors do not visit Waynesboro,” a report prepared by the Office of Economic Development and Tourism for Waynesboro City Council earlier this month tells us. “There are six roads leading to and from the CTIC, with only one to Waynesboro. The vast majority of survey respondents do not travel the road to Waynesboro; they instead enter the interstate or travel 250 to Nelson County and beyond.”

Wow.

Greg Hitchin, who heads up the ED and tourism office, is proposing that the city move away from the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, which is located at the nexus of Route 250, Interstate 64, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive on Afton Mountain, to locate a new tourist information center on the East Main Street corridor.

City leaders are wondering aloud if even a new tourist information center makes sense, given the data.

And I can see their point.

We’re already not getting people to drive down 250, according to the report, when we have actual people in a tourist information center pointing them in our direction.

Which gets us, then, to the second problem: the East Main corridor isn’t exactly all that inviting.

First thing you see just after the city limits sign is a long-abandoned ice cream shop, leading into a sea of nothing for roughly the next mile of 250/East Main.

If we can get you as far as Basic City Beer Co., you might start to get impressed, but then we’ve got to get you past a trailer park and a couple of rundown-looking car lots to head downtown.

Sorry to offend, but that’s just what it is.

City Council is leaning in the direction of just closing the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, and otherwise doing as little as possible.

There was the kernel of an idea presented by City Councilman Terry Short at last week’s business meeting. Short suggested that the city look for a way to purchase an easement opposite the Exit 99 intersection off Interstate 64 to be able to place a large sign directing visitors to restaurants, breweries and shopping in Waynesboro.

Not a bad idea, that one.

That alone, though, can’t be all that we do.

I’d propose, along with this, locating two staffed smaller tourist information centers at two strategic locations – off Exit 94, at which is essentially the city’s new core, the Rosser Avenue corridor, which features a wide range of restaurants, hotels and shopping, and then the one that Hitchin has proposed on the East Main corridor.

Be smart about those – don’t build anything new; just rent space in an existing commercial building.

And the East Main one should be as close to Basic City Beer Co. as possible.

Maybe we could rent a booth at Basic City.

Seriously.

Put more into the one off Exit 94. The vehicle traffic there is orders of magnitude more than on East Main.

And then one other thing: make sure they’re both open until at least 9 p.m., and that they’re open on weekends.

The current tourist information center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

That does almost no good.

It’s like we’re wanting to tell ourselves that we’re trying, without actually trying.

The fourth part of the plan then should be putting more money and effort into advertising, in particular digital advertising.

This way you hit people driving through who are looking for a meal, hit their phones while they’re on the interstate trying to find a place to stop, and not only do you get them to stop for the bite to eat, but you might get them to explore after dinner.

Waynesboro has a lot to offer, but we’ve not been doing any kind of good job, dating back, oh, roughly, 40 years, telling people about it.

I don’t have any problem with city leaders not wanting to just continue the half-assed way we’ve been doing things.

At the same time, we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and call it a day.

We need to be smarter.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].