The number of visitors reaching Washington by Amtrak again increased in 2013, according to Mary Beth Rettke, tourism director.
The Washington Area Chamber of Commerce’s tourism division staffs and maintains the visitor’s center in the train depot, as well as markets the city and surrounding areas.
Rettke sat down with The Missourian to talk about the past year and to take a look at 2014.
The number of Amtrak riders only took one dip in the past two years, in April 2013, which Rettke attributed to several factors, including rainy weather.
Like in 2012, the majority of visitors riding Amtrak came from Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, with St. Louis and Kirkwood following closely behind.
“We’re hoping that continues to increase,” she said.
As in years past, the department worked with Downtown Washington Inc. and the downtown merchants on their events and has sponsored events.
“It’s a great partnership we have with Downtown, that can continue to make this area viable — which is so important to Washington” Rettke said.
One positive increase was in the number of large group tours in Washington. At 13, the number was an increase over 11 in 2012.
Another positive aspect is that the visitor’s center saw an increase in traffic.
The number of visitors through the depot was 21,288 in 2013, up 3,051 visitors, from 18,237 in 2012.
Also in 2013, the tourism department worked with the Washington Historical Society to put up informational signs about historic Civil War areas of interest.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Sterling Price’s raid in the area during the Civil War.
Interpretive signs are located at the brewery and by the train station.
“Both places were damaged greatly by the Confederates as they came through, and with a lot of people following the different Civil War trails, Washington is now in several brochures so people can come and continue on the Franklin Country Trail here in Washington.”
One event Rettke said she was proud of was The Great Race, which made its way through Washington in late June.
The Great Race 2013 is an antique, vintage and collector car competitive controlled-speed endurance road rally on public highways.
Participants stopped in Washington for lunch before continuing on to Cape Girardeau for an overnight stop.
Thousands of people crowded Downtown Washington to see the cars and visit with drivers.
“It drew a lot of people on a weekday. It was amazing the number of people who were Downtown and lining the streets on the route,” she said. “It was a great race.”
The department received a state grant from MoDOT for improvements to the base of the depot, which was chipping.
Funds from the MoDOT grant, as well as one other grant, totaling about $6,000, were used for the renovation. Mense Foundations completed the work.
In 2013, Rettke said the tourism department worked closely with Franklin County tourism.
“We’re having more presence with group booths at the Washington and state fairs,” Rettke said.
A spokesperson from Door County in Wisconsin will visit this year to talk about marketing an area as a county as well as individual cities.
The department also worked with the city on the Highway 100 enhancement. Five new signs were added along the highway.
A new group that stemmed from tourism started in 2013, a sports tournament committee.
The first event will be a youth golf tournament that will take place in August 2014, The Fair Games. The tournament will be held at the Franklin County Country Club and at Wolf Hollow.
One new brochure highlights Franklin County, which will be enhanced with the Civil War aspect. Another brochure will highlight area wineries, as well as day tours and ways to use Washington as a hub for eating and overnight. The Washington brochure will be printed again this year.
A girlfriends shopping weekend was held in April, which Rettke said was a success. A total of 28 women took part.
The 2014 event will be held April 5-6, with more details to be announced at a later date.
The tourism department also took part in the Working Women’s Survival Show held at the St. Charles Convention Center, where Rettke said approximately 5,000 packets with brochures about Washington and Franklin County were distributed.
Rettke said the department will participate again February 21-23.
The Missouri Valley Rhine Association held its first Farm to Table event in Hermann this past September.
The association helps promote producers and artisans in the area.
The next event will be held in New Haven in February, followed by Washington in June.
In addition to dinner, participants will tour and “get a taste” of the area.
“The first one was very successful,” Rettke said.
The Washington Area Chamber of Commerce was presented with the Innovator Award for its tourism success at the 2013 Governor’s Conference.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development’s Division of Tourism recognized several individuals, organizations and businesses that work in the tourism industry for their achievements.
The Innovator Award pays tribute to those smaller tourism entities that achieved great results with small budgets.
Rettke said the Innovator Award looks at a community’s lodging, Amtrak use, events and money taken in.
There was a decrease in bed-tax revenue during the first three quarters of 2013 compared to 2012. Fourth quarter numbers haven’t been received yet.
“A lot of that was due to the fact that the Best Western was not up and running to full capacity for much of that time,” Rettke said, adding that sometimes construction in the area will contribute to business people staying overnight.
In 2012, there was $94,500 in bed-tax revenue during the first three quarters, compared to just under $80,000 during the same time period in 2013.
In 2014, Rettke said she hopes to increase the number of overnight stays and in the lodging tax revenue.
“We feel that by having a group presence with the county, it offers people more to do so they can stay multiple days,” Rettke said.
Rettke said the department will continue to build on making Washington a hub for tourism in the area.
She also will continue to apply for grants to improve tourism in the city.