The Rappahannock Hospitality and Visitors Association (RHVA) has renamed itself and begun the process of redefining its mission as an organization that represents, and promotes, all the county’s businesses.
Now called Businesses of Rappahannock, or BizRapp for short, the organization elected new officers at its annual picnic last Sunday (Aug. 4) at the Visitors Center, one of its best-attended in years. Its newly lowered fees and wider focus are already being credited for a significant rise in membership over last year.
It was in August of last year that RHVA hosted a forum at which County Administrator John McCarthy first suggested publicly that local businesses band together, to promote tourism and tourism-related businesses (always the primary mission of RHVA, whose acronym only a few years earlier started with a “W,” as in Washington) — as well as more general-interest businesses and service providers. McCarthy strongly hinted last summer that the county would become less directly involved in managing such efforts, though it would continue to support them with funding.
The new officers elected unanimously Sunday by BizRapp’s members: Sherri Fickel of Hopkins Ordinary B&B in Sperryville, as president; Rick Wasmund of Sperryville’s Copper Fox Distillery, vice president; Diane MacPherson of Washington’s Foster Harris House B&B as secretary; and, as co-treasurers, Suzanne Zylonis of Haley Fine Art in Sperryville and Darla Morres of Tula’s Off Main in Washington.
“For all businesses,” Fickel wrote Monday, “a goal this year is to create a directory of county businesses, making it easier for residents and visitors to locate needed services and supplies. And also to help support the Business Link meetings that are ongoing, where businesses get together socially.”
For tourism-related businesses, Fickel said, “we will be signing up members for the Visitors Center to help fund it, along with producing the county map designed to assist visitors when they are here.” The map, bound in pads to be torn off as needed, has proven popular since its first printing this spring, Fickel said.
BizRapp is actively working toward taking over management of the county’s tourism website, visitrappahannockva.com, as well as expanding web offerings to include an online directory of all businesses, and other business-support capabilities — in reaction, Fickel said, “to the county’s desire to stop managing the site themselves, now that the position for the part-time tourism-support employee has been eliminated.
“The membership believes the website is a useful tool to promote tourism and communication in the county, and we hope we can take this opportunity to further improve upon what has been established,” Fickel said. “A group of Businesses of Rappahannock members are working diligently toward finding a solution for the web needs.”
Full disclosure: Rappahannock Media, the company that owns this newspaper and Piedmont Virginian magazine, has made a proposal to BizRapp to provide web, database and training services for the county’s tourism site.
“At times, the county has had three or more organizations, all offering different cooperative efforts at business support and communication,” Fickel said, “creating confusion and frustration when businesses are approached by all of them.” The confusing array of organizations has persisted for much of the last decade, both before and during the five years that county tourism consultant Laura Overstreet was managing the overall effort to bring more visitors to Rappahannock (she left the part-time post in December, and is now managing a similar effort for the Castleton Foundation).
“There has long been a desire for there to be just one business organization in this county, and our goal is to develop a group that can meet most of the cooperative business promotion needs,” Fickel said.
For more information about membership, contact Patti Brennan at 540-987-8615.