‘Villager’ puts Kent tourism on the road

The Villager being revealed for the first time at the Air Mobility Command Museum. (Special to the Delaware State News/Sam Wilson)

DOVER — Kent County’s new mobile visitor center just rolled into town.

“The Villager,” as the vehicle is called, made its debut in a ribbon-cutting appearance at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover.

Its name is tied into the branding initiative “Delaware’s Quaint Villages” that the bureau debuted last Fall.

Wendie Vestfall, executive director of Kent County Tourism, said she decided to showcase the Villager at the AMC Museum because the facility is the county’s number one tourist attraction.

In the future, the vehicle will make the rounds to tourist attractions and events with the aim of promoting the county’s amenities, Ms. Vestfall said.

“The mobile visitor center can travel to the various cities and towns during peak times, which enables us to provide better service to the areas we promote and proactively engage with locals and visitors on what to do in Kent County,” she added.

“It will allow us to assist with making tour arrangements, recommendations on attractions and dining and more for large groups that will be attending DE Turf tournaments, Firefly, NASCAR races and various meetings at hotels and attractions.”

Kent County Tourism Executive Director Wendie Vestfall with others cutting the ribbon to make The Villager official at the Air Mobility Command Museum. (Special to the Delaware State News/Sam Wilson)

Ms. Vestfall noted the idea for the Villager originated at a DE Turf tournament. She said the promotional opportunity offered by a large influx of visitors at events, such as the tournaments and the Dover Air Force Base open house over the summer, shouldn’t go to waste.

“We’ll be down at the DE Turf tournament this Sunday with the villager serving the visitors and making them aware of all there is to do in Kent County,” said Ms. Vestfall.

The name is tied into the branding initiative “Delaware’s Quaint Villages” the bureau debuted last fall.

The Villager is a decorated and modified Ford Transit 250 that cost the tourism agency about $80,000 altogether. Chesapeake Utilities picked up around $25,000 of that total to covert the vehicle and equip it to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) with gasoline as back up. DNREC’s clean transportation program also contributed a rebate for the conversion.

Running on CNG will help minimize the Villager’s environmental footprint. Kent County Tourism touts this feature, claiming that cutting tail-pipe emissions makes the air cleaner for people who live in and visit the county.

“To take the visitor center to the people instead of waiting for them to come to you is a great concept,” said Aleida Socarras, vice president of Chesapeake Utilities. “And what better way to get the center to people than with natural gas fuel?

“Since natural gas has become available here in Delaware, Chesapeake Utilities has helped businesses save $11 million in annual energy costs and the carbon reductions has been the equivalent of removing 5,200 cars from the road.

“With every natural gas vehicle on the road, we’re reducing carbon emissions by 20-30 percent.”

Local politicians, business leaders and dignitaries on hand for the ribbon cutting lauded the vehicle, optimistic about the attention it will draw to local attractions.

“According to the state office of tourism, the tourism spending statewide last year was $4.4 billion,” said Rep. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold. “Tourism is the fourth largest industry in our state and it contributed $486 million in state and local taxes last year — that’s huge.

“It’s important that we get a bigger piece of that pie here in Kent County. Of the 42,000 jobs in this state that are related to tourism, only 12 percent are here — roughly 5,000. It’s important to get the message out and show people what we have to offer.”

Onlookers gave applause and nods of approval as the newly minted Villager pulled slowly out of an AMC museum hangar to the Superman theme song played over its on-board speaker system.

Judy Martin, executive director of the Bowers Beach Maritime Museum, eyed the vehicle covetously at the unveiling.

“I think it’s possible that they’ll be bringing it out to our museum, events and festivals in Bowers,” she said. “It’d be great to share more information about the area with visitors.”

The museum-hosted Bowers Beach Buccaneer Bash attracted about 6,000 people this last Memorial Day weekend, she said.

For more information about the Quaint Villages initiative and the mobile visitor center, visit www.visitdelawarevillages.com.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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