COMMENTARY: Tourism in Kent County is worth touting

The late Jack Peterman once said, “If Kent County is not the best county in Delaware, we’re right next to it.”

Some may feel that Kent County has less to offer than the counties to our north and south, but sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Many statistics about the value of tourism are available, but none hit home more than this one, from the Delaware Tourism Office: Without tourism, each Delaware household would pay an additional $1,417 in taxes.

Kent County Tourism, a 501c6 nonprofit organization, has undergone a rebirth in recent months with a new branding initiative that touts the communities that make up Kent County as “Delaware’s Quaint Villages.” The effort focuses on promoting the many things to do — from history walks, cultural venues, wineries and dining, to tax-free shopping, gambling and nature preserves.

Gary Camp

Our quaint villages include Bowers Beach, Camden, Clayton, Dover, Felton, Harrington, Kenton, Leipsic, Magnolia, Milford, Smyrna, Wyoming and others. If you’re a local, you might not recognize these hidden gems as “quaint villages,” but if you’re an out-of-towner, looking for a getaway at a different pace, these towns provide perfect opportunities to relax, support small businesses and discover new favorites.

Kent County provides a wide array of entertainment and dining options that, when cobbled together, create a unique destination for visitors.

Visitors can spend time exploring the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base before heading over to Bombay Hook to explore the picturesque scenery. Or they can savor a cocktail at Painted Stave Distilling, prior to a trip to Sambo’s Tavern for fresh seafood, followed by a show and casino games at Harrington Raceway & Casino or Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.

Other notable stops might include a visit to the Biggs Museum of American Art, Harvest Ridge Winery, Fifer’s Orchard, the Delaware Agricultural Museum, Spence’s Bazaar, Fordham Brewery, Mispillion River Brewing, DE Turf Sports Complex, Legislative Hall and historic downtown Dover, the Smyrna Opera House, the Amish countryside, and much, much more.

Other large events that bring people to town include Firefly Music Festival, Dover Days, the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, the NASCAR events at Dover International Speedway, the Amish Country Bike Tour and the Delaware Wine & Beer Festival, to name a few.

The funding for marketing and executing some of these events and attractions comes from Kent County’s portion of the public accommodations tax. It’s worth noting that these funds come only from overnight visitors to our state, with no tax burden on permanent Kent County residents.

In Delaware, an 8 percent public accommodation tax is attached to the bill at checkout for every hotel room. Of that 8 percent, 1 percent goes to the convention and visitor’s bureau in each county, and of that, a small portion goes to Kent County Tourism to market and promote the county, to help further drive overnight stays. This equated to approximately $415,000 in Fiscal Year 2017.

Tourism is big business not only to large cities, but also to small communities like those in Kent County. Visitors spend money shopping, touring attractions, or learning about the history of the area. This infusion of “new money” into the local economy often holds local tax increases at bay and gives Kent County extra funds to enhance its infrastructure — making our area more appealing over time.

Become An Ambassador

Kent County Tourism offers a range of resources and opportunities to help individuals, businesses and groups become enthusiastic ambassadors and develop tourism in Kent County.

When visitors arrive in any community, their experiences are shaped by their interactions with the people they meet. Their first point of contact may be a gas station attendant, a server at a local restaurant, a park entrance employee or a resident who provides directions.

Everyone has the potential to serve as a tourism ambassador for their community — whether it’s in an official or unofficial capacity. An interaction with visitors shape their first impressions and influences the messages and stories they share about their travels. The stories they share — good or bad — create a waterfall effect and shape opinion about an area.

Kent County Tourism is seeking volunteers to serve as Certified Travel Ambassadors (CTA) for our area. The Delaware’s Quaint Villages Tourism Ambassadors Program is a multi-faceted program that serves to increase tourism by inspiring front-line employees and volunteers to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience. When visitors have a positive experience, they are more likely to return in the future and also share their experience with others.

The Delaware’s Quaint Villages Tourism Ambassador program is a certification, not just training. The program teaches volunteers best practices and ensures that they understand their role in increasing tourism. As an accredited provider, Kent County Tourism presents the official CTA designation on behalf of the Tourism Ambassador Institute, the oversight body for the certification program. The curriculum is delivered through reading assignments and in-class participation.

In the spring, the Certified Tourism Ambassador Program will be open to all community members. For more information and to get involved, contact Kelley Cole, Visitor Service Ambassador, at (302) 734-4888 or kcole@visitdelawarevillages.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gary Camp is assistant vice president of marketing and communications at Dover International Speedway and the chairman of the Kent County Tourism Corporation. He can be reached at 302-883-6560 or gcamp@dovermotorsports.com.

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