New Castle County tourism-convention business impact totals $2 billion

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It came as a surprise to some when a report released last month from the Delaware Tourism Office showed New Castle Coounty ranking first among the state’s three counties in total tourism spending.

While, conventional wisdom would give Delaware beaches the top spot, the tourism and convention business in the state’s northernmost county totaled a bit over $2 billion in 2015 with 5.2 percent growth between 2014 and 2015. New Castle edged out Sussex, which posted a $1.8 billion impact.

Sarah Willoughby, executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau said a diverse blend of festivals, corporate meetings, legal business and tourism attractions have contributed to the recovery of the industry from the recession of 2008 and 2009.

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Willoughby said much of the impact of the tourism industry flies under the radar in the form of corporate meetings, conferences and event complex corporate legal cases that end up in Chancery or U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Also overlooked, according to Willoughby, are out of town visitors to a number of festivals that are held in Wilmington that include the St. Anthony’s Festival, Clifford Brown Jazz Festival and the Wilmington Grand Prix bicycle races. Yet another source of tourism revenue comes from sports events that draw young participants and their families. (See earlier storyon state tourism)

Scott B. Ciancio, marketing director for the bureau, said evidence of that impact can be seen downtown, where it is not uncommon to see groups of people walking together. That often means a legal team is in town for a big case.

Despite news of job cuts at major employers, the county and city still get their share of meetings and conferences, Willoughby said.

Also showing strength is what has been dubbed cultural tourism at Hagley, the Delaware Art Museum, Winterthur, Nemours and Longwood Gardens.

Willoughby said visitor totals swelled with Winterthur’s hugely popular Downton Abbey exhibit that took its inspiration from the hit public television series.

While just across the line in Pennsylvania, “Longwood is the driver” for visitor traffic, Willoughby said.

Attendance has grown at Longwood, despite the closing of its landmark fountain for a $90 million project. With the opening of an even more spectacular foundation, attendance should continue to surge. Willoughby said.

The growth in attendance has allowed the bureau’s revenue from the room tax funding source increase from $1.1 million to $1.6 million.

That contributed to the decision to produce a recently released tourism video that highlights more than the major tourism attractions.

The bureau partnered with Wilmington video production company, The Kitchen to produce the video.

“We set out to produce a video that excites, inspires and even surprises viewers with all there is to see and do in Greater Wilmington, and I think we’ve done that,” said. Willoughby. “We’ve captured so much of what the area offers, yet there is so much more that just could not fit into two minutes and thirty seconds.”

“This project was a really exciting opportunity for us to capture footage from all around the region, stated Jason Prezant, of The Kitchen and the video’s director. “As filmmakers living and working in Wilmington for years, we all know how beautiful it is here. It’s awesome to be given the task of showing that.”

The new video will eventually be edited for commercial spots on Regional cable, connected TVs, video on demand and other outlets.

Willoughby says area businesses are asked to reach out to the GWCVB should they want to use the video on their own website or video screen at their place-of-business.

Related story below.

Delaware tourism sets record

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