– By Mike Konzen, principal and chair
Next April will be the 150th anniversary of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, which effectively ended America’s Civil War. And the Town of Appomattox is preparing for their Sesquicentennial commemoration in 2015. But they are also looking beyond 2015, for the creation of a more complete tourism destination.
At the time of the Civil War, Appomattox Court House’s strategic importance was due to its railroad depot, on the rail line between Lynchburg and Petersburg. General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia there, hoping to use the railroad to transport his men to join forces with Joseph Johnston’s larger Army of Tennessee. His plan failed, and by signing the surrender documents in Wilmer McLean’s parlor that afternoon, Lee and Ulysses S. Grant made the name “Appomattox” famous.
Today, PGAV is consulting for a new generation of Appomattox leaders who have recognized a new kind of strategic importance for this community: cultural tourism.
Rather than the advance of armies, Appomattox is seeking the advance of private developers as strategic partners in tourism growth. And they are laying the groundwork for this by assessing the potential of their tourism market, which is exceptional.
Our analysis showed that Appomattox is located at the epicenter of some marvelous cultural and natural attractions in Central Virginia, which is the state’s largest tourism region.
The Town is within an hour’s drive from many such attractions, including the following:
- Appomattox Courthouse National Park
- The Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox
- The D-Day Memorial
- Jefferson’s Poplar Forest
- Natural Bridge of Virginia
- The Blue Ridge Parkway
With access to such excellent tourism assets, Appomattox is positioned to be an ideal jumping off point for Central Virginia tourism, which generated $3.4 billion in 2011 expenditures. However, what does Appomattox need to serve as a gateway community? It currently needs more lodging and other complimentary activities, such as shopping to be promoted as a complete destination.
And this is where private development comes in.
Our analysis established that there are strong factors to indicate that Appomattox could provide a strong setting for unique lodging designed with cultural or regional themes. Furthermore, indicators suggest that the community could support substantial destination shopping developments. Our task now is to use these findings to attract potential regional and national commercial development partners to work in concert with the community to reach their potential as a destination.
Fortunately, there are many skilled developers who understand the importance of authenticity and brand integrity in a cultural destination.
Too often, it seems that destination development organizations don’t look enough to private development partners to create essential tourism assets. But in many communities, it is exactly this type of public/private partnership that leads to long-term success. In a community like Appomattox, private developers can “supercharge” tourism growth by providing essential complementary elements like lodging and shopping.
Cultural institutions such as museums and historic sites can also serve as effective partners with private developers in creating authenticity-based lodging and commercial offerings. There are several good examples of such partnerships in process throughout the United States.
Following the example of Appomattox, here are some key steps that any culturally-oriented destination can follow to attract right-minded private development partners:
- Quantify key metrics that will be useful in attracting the interest of private developers.
- Develop a strategic plan that assesses and quantifies the potential need for various categories of private development.
- Develop a brand strategy that will serve as a filter for appropriate types of development within your destination.
- Work with local, regional, and state authorities to create a “package” of potential incentives for private development.
- Research other innovative incentive programs that may exist in comparable destinations. For instance, see my description of Asheville’s Tourism Product Development Fund.
- Participate in Local, State, Regional, and National organizations that will enable you to network with private developers and related organizations.
What other steps can you think of to enhance your engagement with private developers?
Successful cultural destinations don’t just happen. They require many things to come together through strong leadership, planning, and the involvement of strong private development partners.