After Sept. 11 and the sniper attacks, area hospitality industries were hard hit. Instead of waiting for better times, several Fairfax business and community leaders formed a study group last fall to examine how to rebuild and strengthen the area's tourism industry.
What resulted was Destination Fairfax, a public/private partnership aimed at bringing more tourism to the city and the immediate area.
"We all came to the conclusion that yes, this is long overdue," said Joan Cross, Fairfax City Council member and Destination Fairfax board president.
A media campaign, Destination Fairfax aims to bring in travel writers in order to expose them to various regional highlights. Using different angles, writers may learn about Civil War sites, Fairfax City or area dining opportunities. While Destination Fairfax will receive partial funding from Fairfax City — the City Council approved in its budget to match up to $75,000 — travel writers will be exposed to city and nearby attractions such as the Air and Space Museum at Dulles, Civil War battlefields and the National Firearms Museum.
"We're simply selling our location, our small-town atmosphere, our historic properties, our festivals," said Sharon Cavileer, Destination Fairfax board member and travel writer.
Although the group is still in its initial stages, with its official launch occurring June 16, it has already had a visit from one travel writer with Northwest World Traveler magazine. The writer, a contact through Florida-based consultant Geiger and Associates, experienced a whirlwind tour of the city while in the area to interview actor Robert Duvall. The writer visited the Fairfax Museum and the Ratcliffe-Allison House, took a walking tour and saw the Civil War graffiti at the Blenheim Estate, Cavileer said.
"There's an awful lot of stories to be told here, from a journalistic standpoint," said Cavileer.
As the program grows, board members hope to host several travel writer events during the year. They also intend to develop materials such as a photo library, and establish a toll-free number.
"It will benefit the city tremendously if Fairfax City can get the exposure as a place to sleep, a place to eat. ... We're just a great central point for people to stay," said board member Betsy Rutkowski, who also owns the gift shop Circa Home and Garden.
Although board members intend to schedule three events for the first year, they still need to continue to raise funds to make Destination Fairfax a greater success.
"If every business in the city contributes $200, we could have a really aggressive tourism program," Cavileer said.
Businesses have responded favorably to the initiative, board members added. While the hospitality industry is on the front line of the program, residents and other businesses may be impacted as well, as more businesses may be attracted to the city, thus increasing business-to-business interaction.
"Hopefully we'll have more tax revenue, and it will benefit everyone in the city," Rutkowski continued.
Claire Luke, executive director and chief executive officer of the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"It's a win-win all the way around," Luke said.