Tourism kiosk opens on Charlottesville Downtown Mall
An entrepreneur who seeks to promote the Charlottesville area as a destination and who operates several tourist lodging spaces and has announced the opening of a new storefront on the Downtown Mall to help visitors find out what to do. M. Travis Wilburn spoke Friday at the opening of Charlottesville Insider, a kiosk in the 100 block of East Main Street.
“In 2017 we all know what happened here shortly over five years ago and I watched tourism completely fall apart,” Wilburn said to a crowd of several dozen people.
Wilburn got involved with the tourism industry in 2008 when he was working for C-Ville Weekly and saw the potential when he heard one winery had several hundred guests at an evening event. In 2010, he started Stay Charlottesville with Bill Chapman, the owner of the Oakhurst Inn. They worked with developer Keith Woodard to renovate 101 East Main Street as the Old Metropolitan Hall.
The new venture is intended to provide a place for tourists to the mall to get information.
The Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau used to operate out of the Downtown Transit Center and there was a help desk. But, the CACVB has moved their offices and now conduct public outreach through two mobile field offices. These didn’t run yesterday due to the threat of inclement weather. (learn more)
Wilburn said the pandemic has devastated business on the Downtown Mall and more needs to be done to help restaurants survive.
“In March 2020, I realized, oh wow! I thought August 12 was bad,” Wilburn said. “This is now awful. This is absolutely horrific. There was zero demand.”
Wilburn said the vacation rental industry started to rebound by that summer as people sought to escape, but successive COVID waves have made it difficult for restaurants to return. To help out, Wilburn and others created an online presence known as Charlottesville Insider to spread information about what he said is “boutique and unique” about the area.
Now the space next door that recently housed a medical supply company has been converted into a physical presence.
“And that’s what this office is next door,” Wilburn said “It’s Charlottesville Insider’s public-private visitors center.”
Wilburn said he walks up and down the Mall every day and remains concerned.
“The business community left during COVID and if you haven’t been downtown you can see it every single day,” Wilburn said. “I used to have to run to get a seat at a restaurant at 12 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That no longer exists.”
Wilburn said tourism can help make up some of the difference and he hopes the new office will help by giving people who are visiting a chance for people to talk to someone. He said he will promote other businesses not connected with his companies.
Also in attendance was Rita McClenny, the president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, even though there’s no public money in the venture.
“Insider Charlottesville will provide a space for people to come on the Mall to gather information about what to do, when to do it, and where to do it, “ McClenny said. “It’s directional, it’s informative and it’s excellent customer service for the visitor.”
The Virginia Tourism Corporation divides the state into ten regions, with Albemarle and Charlottesville in Central Virginia. McClenny said this specific part of the Commonwealth is very important to the industry.
“This region means so much to Virginia tourism because it is a magnet for people who want to come and have a really elegant, sophisticated experience,” McClenny said. “It attracts people who want to have and come a profound outdoor experience.”
The hours for Charlottesville Insider are Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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