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Creative getaways

Hotel packages build on local attractions and throw in a bed for Fido

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by Elizabeth Cooper


A swarm of fiddling fans descended on Marion in November to hear bluegrass sensation Rhonda Vincent, drawn by her talent and a hotel package that made concert going easy. The stately
General Francis Marion Hotel, fresh from a two-year renovation that restored its Roaring Twenties elegance, offered tickets to the performance, overnight accommodations and dinner at its Capers restaurant. The package started at $185 per couple. To get to their reserved seats, patrons simply walked next door to the Lincoln Theatre. Once touted as the most elegant lodging establishment in Southwest Virginia, the General Francis reopened in February 2006 after its restoration and immediately set out to become a player in Virginia’s growing tourism industry, where visitors spent more than $17 billion in 2006.

Business took off when the hotel began advertising packages to bluegrass aficionados attending the monthly “Song of the Mountains” concert at the historic Lincoln. “The General Francis Marion Song of the Mountains” — a program taped for broadcast on more than 160 PBS stations nationwide — has helped make this small Southwestern town a vacation destination for fans of old-time music. “The hotel is often sold out,” says Libby Hoffman, assistant general manager of the General Francis Marion. Offering packages around an area’s heritage or major tourist attractions is proving to be a
winning strategy for Virginia hotels. As time-starved consumers look for convenient deals that combine amenities and activities, hotels can no longer get by with offering a free breakfast or discounts on a two-night stay. Instead, marketers are getting creative. They’re designing deals that pamper everyone from the business traveler who longs for a roomy desk to the art lover who wants museum tours. There are even perks for pets. “The traveling public now wants a lot of options,” says Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corp (VTC). “Most people are suffering from time poverty. If you have to make the customer work very hard, you’re going to lose their interest. When a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast offers a deal with an attraction, the customer doesn’t have to do a lot of
work.”

Weekend trips to small towns, coined as “Main Street getaways” by the VTC, are especially popular as city dwellers retreat to an outdoor recreational area or relax in a small hamlet.
“They really want to get out of the city,” says Bailey, noting that Virginia’s 500-mile radius to most of the U.S. population enhances its attraction to visitors from Washington, Baltimore, New York and
Philadelphia. In Central Virginia, Charlottesville attracts tourists by playing up Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The Foxfield Inn gives guests priority admission to Monticello through the
Presidential Trail Package. Ranging from $495 to $535 for a double occupancy, the package includes two nights stay, a full country breakfast each morning, two tickets to Monticello,
a bottle of wine from a local winery and two Foxfield Inn coffee mugs. “Most people come to Charlottesville to see Monticello, so it seems fitting to offer a Presidential Trail
Package,” says Mary Pat Hulbert, who owns the inn with her husband, John.

Down the road from Charlottesville, skiers are not the only ones who head to Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. During the fall, wine connoisseurs take advantage of the
resort’s “Grape Escape” packages. Starting at $149 per person per night, the packages include tastings at three to five wineries with a wine expert, private transportation to the
wineries and access to Wintergreen’s aquatics and fitness center. For movie buffs, tourists can visit historic Richmond through the lens of Hollywood on the Movie Lovers Getaway Weekend. The Crowne Plaza Hotel Richmond West recently began offering the package to motorcoach groups in conjunction with Virginia Film Tours. Starting at $250 per person, the weekend includes two nights’ accommodations, tours of sites used in movies, dinners, breakfasts, popcorn, free in-room movies and theater-style seating to view a film featured on the tour. “I was looking for a way to make Richmond stand out,” says Lesley Galaneau, sales manager of the Crowne Plaza. “I found a flier for the film tour and developed this package. We’re going to keep it out there as long as people are interested in
it.” 

These days hotel packages aren’t just for humans. Kimpton Hotels’ new Hotel Palomar Arlington at Waterview, a luxury boutique on the Potomac River that opened in November, runs
a Santa Paws Package starting at $209 per night through Jan. 31. It provides overnight accommodations for man and beast, a festive holiday jacket for Fido or Fluffy, a pet mat,
candy cane rawhide and a keepsake photo of the pets and their humans complete with an easel for displaying it. While guests enjoy the hotel’s complimentary evening wine hour, canine
friends can partake of a sip of water at the hotel’s dog bar and snack on complimentary treats.

Pets also can unwind by creating a paw-painted picture. For an additional fee, the hotel offers pet grooming and dog walkers. After the holidays, Santa Paws becomes Applaud the Paws. For $299 a night, the program features a luxurious pet bed, treats from a local pet boutique, designer pet bowls and a personalized pet tag. The Hotel Palomar also boasts its own maestro of pet services. Sparky, a part Jack Russell and part Labrador retriever, greets each pet at check-in and provides a welcome note with her paw print. Sparky belongs to Sholeh Katherina Kia, the hotel’s general manager. “Our travelers really like the fact that our packages embrace their little ones whether they have a cat, dog or any other kind of animal,” says Vicki Q. Walker, director of sales and marketing.


Visitors to Hotel Palomar might want to take advantage of a Heart of Art package. It includes accommodations for two in a suite overlooking the Potomac River, dinner in the hotel restaurant, tickets to a performance at either the Synetic Theater or Signature Theatre and a bottle of Virginia wine. Rates begin at $629 per night.  An arts package also is available at the Newport News Marriott at City Centre. Catering to business and leisure travelers, the hotel signed on with the Virginia Living Museum, the Mariners Museum and the Peninsula Fine Arts Center.  The package includes tickets for one or
two adults to one of the museums, additional discounted tickets if needed and breakfast in the hotel dining room. Rates vary based on hotel room availability.

As the traveling public tries to make the best use of its time and money, expect lodging establishments to plug even more diverse packages. Besides its “Song of the Mountains” 
concerts, the General Francis Marion also promotes a package giving full-moon canoe tours in conjunction with local state parks and is looking into a ballroom dance weekend. “People
don’t want to take a long trip, but they want to do something a bit different,” says Hoffman. “It’s a good thing for us.”

It’s also a good thing for the town and Smyth County. Since the General Francis Marion reopened, the area has seen more than an 11 percent increase in tourism. As business grows,
with an average 20 percent monthly growth in occupancy during 2007, it continues to hire additional staff. By embracing its heritage, the General Francis Marion is trying to build
up Marion’s tourism industry to combat the recent loss of manufacturing jobs. As Hoffman notes: “They can take the manufacturing jobs abroad, but they can’t take tourism overseas.” 


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