Organizations hope to boost tourism

Published 8:39 am Friday, April 2, 2010

FRANKLIN—There are things to do in Western Tidewater.

That’s the message Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. is trying to get out, and the agency wants residents and businesses to help.

“The best way to market is word-of-mouth,” said Tommy Miller, business development manager for FSEDI.

Developing tourism “is a major part of economic development,” along with small business recruitment, business retention and workforce training,” Miller said.

“It’s just one more piece of the puzzle,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re working on all of those at the same time.”

FSEDI, in cooperation with the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Franklin Association, has been developing a strategic tourism plan for more than a year. Representatives from the Virginia Tourism Corp. held workshops with businesses.

“The ultimate vision of this plan was to develop, attract, promote and elevate the experience for visitors in the Franklin-Southampton area, while maintaining our quality of life,” Miller said.

The Franklin City Council and Southampton County Board of Supervisors have endorsed the plan.

Governments were not asked to provide any funding, Miller said.

Organizations involved would pool resources to market the area to tourists.

This isn’t the first attempt to increase tourism. In 2000, a tourism commission called Southside of the James was developed, but it hasn’t moved forward as FSEDI officials had wished. Last year, Southside of the James dissolved.

“Which gave us more initiative to move forward with this tourism initiative,” Miller said.

The goal isn’t to make the region a Williamsburg or Virginia Beach-like tourist destination, but rather to capitalize on its strengths,” he said.

“We’re an agricultural community, and that’s a key asset,” Miller said.

Tourism could involve the region’s waterways, historic sites, annual festivals and events, and even farming.

“To folks who aren’t used to that, it’s very interesting,” Miller said.

Tourism-related industries bring in millions of dollars and provide about 250 jobs in Franklin and Southampton County, according to Virginia Tourism Corp.

Increased tourism would be a positive for the entire community, not just hotels and restaurants.

“When all of these local tourism-related businesses succeed, so do many other businesses through the use of local professional services,” Miller said.

A Web site to promote the region further is also on the radar, he said.

Teresa Beale, executive director of the Franklin/Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said many people just assume there’s nothing to do in a small town.

“We have a lot of things to do here and I’m glad we’re having this big effort…to promote it to its fullest,” she said.