The number of tourists visiting Washington — either for the day or overnight — is on the upswing, according to Mary Beth Rettke, tourism director.
The Washington Area Chamber of Commerce’s tourism division staffs and maintains the visitors center in the train depot, as well as markets the city and surrounding areas.
“We’ve seen a gradual growth (in tourism) over the past several years,” Rettke said.
Visitors arriving via Amtrak also are on the increase, she said, with the highest number of people coming from Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, and St. Louis and Kirkwood following closely behind.
Rettke said having people visit from the western part of the state is a big accomplishment.
“We can see that our advertising in that area is working,” she said, adding that a lot of credit goes to Amtrak for its better on-time arrivals and making train riding more appealing.
The only dip in tourism was during late July and early August, Rettke said, when temperatures were high and fewer people were traveling.
In just the first 18 days of December, those going through the visitor’s center was up 42 percent from 611 in 2011 to 873 in 2012.
Another indicator of success is the increase in bed-tax revenue, Rettke said, noting that the first three quarters of the year showed a 9 percent increase over 2011.
“We made really good strides in tourism,” Rettke said.
The city’s bed tax is the largest source of funding for tourism, Rettke said. The Chamber also subsidizes the department.
A state grant was secured by the tourism department this past year to complete a tourism brochure for Franklin County, as well as advertise and market outside of the 50-mile radius of Washington. The 2012 brochure will highlight relevant Civil War places of interest for visitors.
Rettke noted that 2014 is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which may attract some visitors to the area.
The tourism department also recently finished a new Washington brochure, she said, which will have a longer shelf life than in years past.
Like in 2011, the tourism department again worked with the Missouri Rhine Valley Association to help educate people to buy and eat locally raised vegetables and food, which is the association’s goal. Together, the groups hosted a “Fall Fare” at Robbler Winery to help promote cultural tourism.
Rettke said a “Farm to Fork” event is planned for spring 2013.
The Washington Chamber and Downtown Washington Inc. teamed up this past year to host the first-ever Pumpkin Palooza, which Rettke deemed a success.
More than 1,000 people attended the event, she said, and the largest pumpkin weighed in at 428 pounds.
“This will definitely be an annual event,” she added.
A girlfriends shopping weekend held in April had a good turnout, Rettke said, and will be duplicated in 2013.
Rettke also attended and promoted Washington at the “Working Women’s Survival Show” held at the St. Charles Convention Center in February 2012.
During the three-day event, the Washington booth promoted the area as a whole to offer more for visitors in terms of things to do and reasons to stay in the Washington area. Rettke will again attend the show in February 2013.
Goals for 2013
The biggest goal for 2013, Rettke said, is to attract visitors from out-of-state.
Another goal is to continue to increase overnight stays in Washington. Rettke said visitors who stay overnight tend to do more shopping and dining locally.
In the coming year, Rettke said the tourism department will do more Internet advertising, which Rettke noted is built into a state grant. The main advantage is that the ads are trackable, so success can be more easily measured, she said.
The tourism department will let go of two billboards located on Interstates 70 and 44. The billboards located at the Washington exit on I-44 and on Highway 47 between Washington and Union will remain.
Rettke said that having billboards for events like the Fair seem to be more effective than just highlighting a destination. New wayfinding signage along Highway 100, which is already in the works, should help drive traffic through town, she added.
The 2013 budget allows for 13 new signs throughout the area, said Rettke, who hopes the signs guide people and help them find what they’re looking for, rather than just passing through Washington without stopping.
This past year the tourism department ventured more into social media, Rettke said. The department can be found on Facebook and Twitter through WashMO Tourism.
Rettke will get some added help in the new year with Chamber staffer Amanda Griesheimer taking over marketing and working with social media. Grieshemer will help with Chamber and Fair activities.
Rettke said she will look at additional avenues for fund raising and work to get grant funds.
Another goal is to try to bring a sports tournament to the area, she said, which will bring many visitors who may stay, eat and participate in other activities. A committee has been formed with the athletic directors at Washington High School and St. Francis Borgia Regional High School to work toward that goal.
Also in 2013, the tourism department will work with the Washington Historical Society to put up informational signs about historic Civil War areas of interest. Plans are already in place to put up signs at the brewery and by the train station, Rettke said, and others may be added.