Ferrum Forward Meeting Focuses On Tourism

Franklin County Director of Tourism Kevin Tosh speaks to members of Ferrum Forward about the statistics concerning the Villages tourism.
Franklin County Director of Tourism Kevin Tosh speaks to members of Ferrum Forward about the statistics concerning the Village’s tourism.
Kyle Markowitz

Tourism and Travel were the talk of the town as Franklin County Director of Tourism Kevin Tosh traveled to Ferrum Forward’s monthly meeting, Oct 10.

Tosh spoke about Franklin County’s Destination Marketing Organization.

“It is an organization whose sole purpose is designed to promote the location as a visitor destination and make it attractive as a destination,” Tosh said.

Franklin County has one of the largest rural destination markets for visitors in Virginia.

The DMO is responsible for recruiting events to the area that will draw visitors.

Tosh said the largest contributor to their budget is from taxes on hotels, campgrounds, or other lodging facilities. Franklin County collects a 7% tax, which goes towards the department’s budget.

“Our budget for this year, for 23-24, is $278.383K,” Tosh stated.

This budget contributes to marketing, events, as well as the VA250 initiative that will celebrate the 250 year anniversary of the United States  in 2026.

According to Tosh’s numbers, the majority of visitors coming to Franklin County are staying for six days. The next largest group would be day trippers who do not stay overnight.

“From November of 2022 to September of this year (2023) 5.7% of all visitors to Franklin County visited Ferrum College and surrounding areas,” Tosh noted.

In 2022, $67.9 million was spent in Franklin County, with the biggest grouping of the spending being lodging.

In Ferrum, there is a 49% visitor to 51% resident ratio, as to Philpott Lake it is 81% resident to 19% visitor.

“The ultimate goal in tourism is to win your backyard,” Tosh said.  “You have to convince people in Franklin County to spend their money in Franklin County.”

Tosh said there has to be a lure to every place as to why someone would want to go there. Ferrum College is that lure.

“The relationship between the community and the college inside of the community has such an impact in a place like Ferrum, where the college geographically is such a large part of the community, but also the offerings it has,” Tosh said. “I think the community takes the college for granted, and the college takes the community for granted.”

Tosh goes on to note that visitors of Ferrum College contributed 1.8% of the $67.9 million in visitor spending in Franklin County in 2022.

The college is a contributor to Franklin County’s tourism although some residents want Ferrum to build an identity of its own.

“I want people to know that we (Ferrum) are more than the college. I appreciate the college and everything it does, but I think Ferrum needs its own identity, something that can bring people in on its own,” Ferrum Forward member, Rebecca Saunders said.

Ferrum Forward’s goal in observing this data is to identify where Ferrum falls in the area in different measures of tourism statistics. The group of Ferrum residents wants to find ways to improve their attractiveness as a tourism destination, while maintaining the smaller, tight-knit community for which Ferrum is known.

Tosh recommended that the members form their own elevator pitch for the Village. This would allow Ferrum Forward to identify the strengths of their community, which is important when trying to increase tourism in the area.

In response to this, Tina Hanlon, Ferrum professor and Ferrum Forward member, shared a quote from a student who she had previously worked with at the college.

“My very favorite example of a student testimonial, and I could not believe this student wrote this down, he said: ‘We’re always complaining about how Ferrum is in the country, and there’s nothing to do, but I’m from Virginia Beach, and it is butt ugly. Ferrum is beautiful,'”Hanlon shared.

Throughout the discussion, Ferrum Forward found that local events, tight-knit community, and outdoor opportunities were Ferrum’s biggest strengths when it comes to attracting tourism. These would make up what Tosh defined as Ferrum’s brand identity. Ferrum Forward events such as the Saturday Farmers markets and new Thursday Night market are helping to form this brand identity.

“It’s a place for people to get together and just talk,” said Kat Harrison, Ferrum Forward member and local business owner, speaking about the new Thursday Night market hosted by Ferrum Forward.

As the group discussed the strengths of Ferrum as a tourism destination, Tosh steered the conversation toward improvements the Village could make to increase its footprint as a tourism destination.

“As much as we’re highlighting all the great things in Ferrum, is being able to realize all the shortcomings of Ferrum as a destination,” said Tosh.

Tosh highlighted that while Ferrum may be an ideal place to live for permanent residents, people visiting Ferrum will have to stay somewhere else. He went on to propose a hypothetical question to several Ferrum College students in attendance, asking where their family would stay if they were to visit overnight.

The issue of overnight accommodations is one factor as to why the most money spent in Franklin County is in Rocky Mount. However, Tosh explained the upside of this issue for Ferrum.

“The way I look at it is over half of the money spent by visitors is 10-12 miles from here,” said Tosh. “The ability to pull some of that from Rocky Mount is going to be a much easier pull.”

Ferrum Forward will meet next Nov. 14 with featured speaker Inge Terrill, Phoebe Needles Executive Director.





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