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Votes

Keeping Tourists

U.S. Rep Frank Wolf hosts tourism forum before the opening of the National Air and Space Annex.

The old cliché “build it and they will come” is something U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) wants to see happen when the National Air and Space Museum Annex opens in December.

Wolf and tourism professionals want the 3 million tourists expected to visit each year to not only come out to Dulles but to stay for a while. On Nov. 21, Wolf hosted a forum “Helping Our Tourism Industry Take Off” to help tourist attractions benefit from the opening of the museum annex. “This is an unique opportunity. We have so much in this region we take for granted,” he said before he had to leave to attend a Congressional session.

THREE TOURIST officials gave an overview of the museum annex and identified how the region can be a tourist attraction for museum visitors.

“I’m sure it will be a hub to bring people to this area,” said Donald Lopez, deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum, which opened in 1976 and now includes 355 airplanes and the same number of spacecraft in its collection. Sixty-five of the pieces are on display at the Washington, D.C. location and another 65 are on loan. The display will be expanded with the museum annex, which is named the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution after a Hungarian man who loves airplanes. Udvar-Hazy donated $65 million, believing he owed “so much to this county, to aviation” that helped him be successful, Lopez said. “It will be pretty spectacular,” he said.

The museum annex is a 1,000-foot hangar in height, 250 feet wide by 150 feet long, with air and spacecraft hung in aerobatic positions and a viewing walkway. The annex is scheduled to open with a ribbon cutting on Dec. 11. “We can’t wait to get going on this,” Lopez said.

The next speaker Alisa Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, gave the bad and good news about the region’s tourism economy. “The bad news is the economy is still shaky. When the economy is shaky, we all suffer,” she said to the more than 100 representatives from tourist attractions within the 10th Congressional District.

Tourism declined following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the sniper shootings last fall, the War in Iraq, an unusually rainy spring and summer, and Hurricane Isabel.

“We need to bring awareness and brand Northern Virginia as a tourism destination,” said Tabitha Mullins, president of the Northern Virginia Visitors Consortium (NVVC), a collaborative marketing effort by several Convention and Visitors Bureaus in the region, including the one in Loudoun County. The NVCC pre-sold the museum annex to the travel, trade and hospitality community, she said.

“Marketing is the lifeblood of tourism,” Bailey said, adding that in addition to marketing, tourism professionals need to cooperate, coordinate and communicate. “Tourists do not just stay to do one thing. … There lies our opportunity in the Commonwealth, get more people to stay longer.”

TOURISM REPRESENTATIVES in the audience identified setbacks and possibilities for marketing the museum annex and the region. The setbacks include a need for improved transportation in the western end of Northern Virginia and county codes that limit sign sizes too much, as one audience member said.

Audience members also identified ways to attract tourists, including:

* Advertising in airline magazines and in cities and counties tourists typically visit.

* Establishing a survey of flight data that goes beyond the optional in-flight surveys conducted by airlines on travelers’ travel patterns.

* Developing an advertising tagline, such as “go anywhere in 60 minutes.”

“Wolf’s goal was to bring people together to share ideas … and to see what the opportunity is there in the Air and Space Museum,” said Dan Scandling, Wolf’s press secretary and chief of staff, at the conclusion of the two-hour forum, which was held at the historic Oatlands Plantation near Leesburg.