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Area's new tourism director finds there's plenty to do here
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Jennifer Doss, the new director of tourism for the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., shows promotional materials for the area. (Bulletin photo)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Jennifer Doss thinks Henry County and Martinsville have enough attractions to entice tourists to come here and stay a week or longer.

Those attractions include historical sites, recreation opportunities, arts and cultural amenities and outlet stores, said Doss, the new director of tourism for the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

Her personal interests in those types of attractions prompted her to apply for the job, which she started in January. Her duties include finding ways to promote the community and its attractions that entice tourists to visit and spend money, thereby strengthening the local economy.

"Tourism is a major economic driver for our community," said Doss, formerly rivers and trails project manager for the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA).

"Everyone benefits from tourism," even if their jobs do not directly pertain to it, she said. For instance, if a visitor's car breaks down, a local mechanic can fix it, and money the mechanic is paid is then spent in the community.

Statistics cited by Doss show that tourism in Virginia last year generated $17.7 billion in revenue and supported 208,000 jobs statewide.

She does not yet have figures showing how much revenue and how many jobs tourism supports in Henry County and Martinsville.

However, a DRBA study showed that visitors who come to the area to hike along local trails collectively spend thousands of dollars a year on items such as food, gasoline and hiking equipment, she noted.

Henry County and Martinsville have things to interest practically anyone, according to Doss.

For instance, she said, history lovers can learn about Colonial-era governor Patrick Henry, who lived in the area for part of his life. They can find out about local history at the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Museum, research family history at the Bassett Historical Center and visit the Virginia Museum of Natural History to learn what the Earth was like many centuries ago.

Outdoor enthusiasts can walk and hike along local trails or go fishing along the Smith River. Arts and culture lovers can visit Piedmont Arts Association and attend TheatreWorks performances, and shoppers can find bargains at local furniture outlets and the J.C. Penney Outlet store, she said.

Managers at those stores have told her that the outlets attract shoppers who live three hours or more away, she added.

Also, visitors can buy works of local artists - things "they can't get anywhere else in the world" - at the Southern Virginia Artisan Center uptown, said Doss.

"All of these (attractions) play a huge role in developing a package (of opportunities) that will entice people to come" to the area, she said.

But first they must be made aware of those attractions.

Under Doss' leadership, the EDC is launching an advertising campaign to promote the area to visitors. Ads will be published in several publications focusing on the region and southeastern United States, she said.

A Web site, www.visitmartinsville.com, has information about area attractions, and Doss is striving to keep it updated daily. She also is using social networking opportunities to tell people about things to see and do.

A toll-free phone number, 1-888-PACE4YU, has been set up so people who plan to visit the area can order free packages of information on attractions.

Through those venues, information on Henry County and Martinsville is "reaching just about every state in the nation," Doss said.

The area already is receiving a lot of tourists. A log at the visitor's center uptown shows that in the past month, tourists have come to Henry County-Martinsville from all over Virginia and as far as California and New York.

But the EDC does not know how many tourists actually are visiting the area. Doss said a survey that is being developed for distribution at motels will help officials keep track of tourist numbers.

She noted that in a survey conducted by the Martinsville Speedway, race fans rated the community as the friendliest place to watch a NASCAR race.

"That speaks very highly of us," she said.

To motivate race fans to "take a right turn out of the speedway parking lot and go into town," Doss said the EDC and local restaurants are working on a promotion for the fall race at the speedway. When fans receive race tickets they order, they also will get a discount coupon for a restaurant, she said.

The EDC also is developing package deals with area motels in which visitors can pay a set fee for lodging, meals and admission to attractions, she said.

 

 
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