Kent County Tourism’s Vestfall driven to success

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New Kent County Tourism Executive Director Wendie Vestfall of Dover stands behind the reception desk last week in the organization’s Dover office. Ms. Vestfall, a Ohio native with 20 years of tourism and promotions experience in her home state and Virginia, started the job last month. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — A self-professed “humongous NASCAR fan,” Wendie Vestfall already had been to Dover several times prior to becoming the new executive director of Kent County Tourism.

Upon accepting the job, she found out quickly there is much more to the area than fast cars and casinos.

Taking the reins Jan. 18, Ms. Vestfall has hit the ground running, tying together all of the many components that comprise the massive Dover Days Festival set for May 6-8.

After that comes the Amish Country Bike Tour in September followed quickly by the Delaware Wine and Beer Festival, which is coupled with Kent County Restaurant Week.

All are produced by Kent County Tourism, which also strives to attract people from out of state to visit the other area attractions, stay in local hotels and patronize a wide array of businesses and restaurants.

It’s a job Ms. Vestfall is eager to dig into.

“I really love what I do. And this position combines everything. We have Dover Days, the Amish Bike Tour and the Beer and Wine Festival and that gets into the promotion side of things. And then we also have the tourism side of getting people to Kent County to visit us and see all of the great things we have to offer here,” said the 43-year-old Ms. Vestfall, who is a certified events planner with 20 years of experience in marketing, public relations and tourism.

Varied background

A native of Macedonia, Ohio, which is 50 miles south of Cleveland and 50 miles north of Akron, Ms. Vestfall started her career as an air personality for a host of area radio stations after graduating from the University of Akron with a bachelor of arts in business and organizational communications.

“I picked up some marketing and promotions experience doing radio but then I tell people I worked at every radio station in Ohio so I had to leave,” she joked.

In 2000, she got a call from Washington radio station WMZQ to be its promotions director. She worked in that position until 2006 when she took a job promoting major motion pictures in the Baltimore, Northern Virginia and Washington areas.

The position had her working with Paramount, Lions Gate and Summit studios on movies such as “Twilight” and “Kung Fu Panda.”

She did that for five years until she became the director of marketing, communications and public relations at Virginia’s Prince William & Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she honed her tourism skills.

After four-and-a-half years, she made the move to Delaware.

“I have really fallen in love with the whole industry,” she said. “It’s considered the hospitality industry and everyone is truly hospitable.”

A ‘win-win’

She considers her new job a “win-win” situation.

“I love NASCAR. I knew about Dover Downs. I love the beach. It’s just a great opportunity to be involved in all the great events and exciting things going on around here including Firefly (Music Festival) and all the rest. And I’m not that far from the beach,” she said. “Things just couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Ms. Vestfall sees many similarities between Northern Virginia and Kent County.

“There is lots of history in both places. Prince William County is where the Civil War started and was the site of several battles,” she said.

“There is also a rural side in both places. In the western side of Prince William County, there are farms, there was the farm-to-table dining and the great farmer’s markets that are here as well.”

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Kent County Tourism Executive Director Wendie Vestfall stands inside the tourism office’s hallway adorned with work from local artists. Ms. Vestfall says she hopes to add another holiday event to the already busy roster of Kent County Tourism events.

There is one big difference, however.

“People there are not as community involved as they are here. That was one of the things that drew me here. I was amazed at how well the community comes together for things,” she said.

“Everyone is willing to pitch in and everyone understands tourism. That’s huge. When people come here, they know it’s a friendly place. I knew I wanted to work with these people who care as much as I do.”

As impressed as Ms. Vestfall was with the people and places in the county, so too was the board of directors impressed with her.

“The interview committee, consisting of nine board members, was thrilled Wendie agreed to be the executive director for Kent County Tourism,” said Anita Evans, board president.

“We’re very fortunate to have someone with her experience in tourism, events and marketing. We look forward to continued growth in the premier events put on by Kent County Tourism with additional out-of-town overnight guests throughout the year.”

Ms. Vestfall replaces Cindy Small, who was executive director for eight years before retiring from the position in October. Before Ms. Small, Mary Skelton ran the nonprofit organization from its beginning 26 years ago.

“I’m really honored that I’m only the third person to be the executive director,” Ms. Vestfall said.

“It’s amazing that this area and the people who work here make it where someone has stayed in that position for that long. Nowadays people jump around so much. That also told me that this is a fantastic organization that I had to be a part of.”

Future plans

As far as her future goals are concerned, Ms. Vestfall believes Kent County and Dover need a brand.

“We need to find a way to somehow create an image for the area and package the great things that we have here — to tell people that there are Amish here. We have two casinos here. We have great wineries, distilleries and breweries that are popping up everywhere. We have such a great history and heritage and an overall story that we need to share with as many people as possible,” she said.

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Justin Blocksom of Denver, Pa., adjusts the tri-cornered hat of his son Benjamin as they stand with his other son Ryan near the Old State House during last year’s Dover Days Festival. Kent County Tourism’s premiere event, which draws upward of 50,000 people, will take place May 6-8. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

“We so many great things here besides NASCAR and music festivals.”

Ms. Vestfall also hopes to add another event or two to the already busy schedule of activities.

“I’m looking to slate something in the winter holiday area. There isn’t a lot going on during that time. So we need to see what can we do to take advantage of the tax-free shopping and get people into the hotels during the holiday season,” she said.

As she gets ready for the 83rd annual Dover Days Festival, which this year focuses on historical preservation, she assures that the weekend will not change appreciably under her watch.

“We’ll look at the events this year and see what works and what doesn’t work anymore,” she said.

“We’re not changing it. We’re looking to add on to it. I want more people to know about Dover Days and the more they know about it, the more they will want to come sample it.”

Although she has stepped down from her full-time role as director of special events, Lorraine Dion has stayed on in a part-time capacity to help coordinate this year’s festival.

“She has done a lot of the work already and has been fabulous. She is a good person for Kent County and is helping us greatly,” Ms. Vestfall said.

A whole new full-time staff has been brought in to help Ms. Vestfall.

That includes Justine Zimny as marketing and communications manager, John Doerfler as director of sales and events and Kate Kreppein as administrative assistant.

Ms. Dion’s husband Russ is staying on as a part-time assistant.

Nuptials and NASCAR

As if things weren’t busy enough for Ms. Vestfall, she also recently became engaged.

Her fiancé Todd Dolkos asked her to marry him on Christmas Day, just days after she accepted her new job and moved with Ms. Vestfall to Dover.

“We’ve been together six years. But I told him ‘Please don’t think we’re getting married this year,’” she said with a laugh.

As far as her NASCAR fandom is concerned, her favorite driver is defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch. A bigger fan of Mr. Busch may be hard to find.

“When I say I’m a NASCAR fan, it’s a little ridiculous. My fiancé has this stuffed animal from his childhood. During last year’s Talladega race, I began to think it was rigged that (Mr. Busch) wasn’t going to make it through (to the next round), so I threw the stuffed animal across the room,” she said.

“When he won the title, I started bawling and he asked me ‘Are you crying?’ I had to admit I was.

“I suggested that we could get married at the Monster Mile. He wasn’t so sure about that. He’s also a NASCAR fan but he doesn’t throw stuffed animals.”

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