Thirty people representing businesses and attractions located throughout The Best PART of Virginia came together at the Cameron Foundation to hear Mary Prince Lewis of Heart of Virginia Tours and Receptive Services talk about what group tour operators in the marketplace today are seeking and how she markets the Heart of Virginia to those companies.  She is already including some venues in our area on her tour itineraries and was offering help, suggestions about how other venues might become more attractive to the group tour market.  Ms. Lewis said it is her mission “to provide tour experiences (key word “experiences”) that exceed expectations, build positive perspective and open Virginia to tour groups in ways not previously imagined”.  She talked about how history can be woven into the travel experience in different ways, such as through the compelling stories of individuals, and history can be made a part of a broader themed trip that might also include culinary experiences, arts & culture, gardens, music.  As examples, she talked about visitors planting in gardens, painting, candle dipping, making candy with a chocolatier, hearing the stories of the strong and talented women behind our Virginia-born presidents and behind-the-scenes tours.

After her talk Lewis broke the group down into five smaller groups and the excitement and creativity flowed as participants developed five different itineraries in less than one-half hour that Lewis could market as she goes throughout the country selling tours to group tour operators and that Petersburg Area Regional Tourism can market on its website  and through Virginia Tourism Corporation.

Martha Burton, Tourism Director for Petersburg Area Regional Tourism, said “I am thrilled about the turnout today from throughout The Best PART of Virginia, and excited that people representing a variety of venues were very enthusiastic about the idea of presenting all that we have here in different and creative ways, and they were so open to connecting with each other to give visitors memorable experiences”.   She pointed out that “while we are often thought of for our vast history, we have opportunities to pair that history with a growing and vibrant restaurant community, creative arts venues, craft breweries, wineries, a new craft distillery, parks, an amazing zoo, county fairs, live theater, hiking and biking trails, two rivers, marinas, agritourism opportunities, “big name concerts”, lots of outdoor concerts from spring through the fall, an incredible museum filled with vintage tractors, trucks, fire trucks and cars, the largest state park in Virginia, and numerous festivals offering food and fun”.