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News :: Tourism in Vinton, Iowa?
· 11:26am February 12th, 2014
It is a privilege serving on the Vinton Unlimited Board and I am now entering my second year. One of my passions has been to work on tourism for Vinton. Some of you may be thinking right now, “Tourism? Why in the world would anyone travel to Vinton? What in the heck is there to see or do here?”
Well my friends, if you stop me at the bank or on the street and ask me those questions, you may hear an answer like this:
”One of my responsibilities at Farmers Savings Bank & Trust as Heritage Club Director is to design day trips in Iowa for our HC members. I have taken folks on motorcoach tours to see many wonderful places in Iowa. Places in Iowa that are rich in history, have good restaurants, shopping, nice parks, driving tours of historical houses or art sculptures, fun events and entertainment. Many communities have hotels/motels for travelers to stay overnight if needed. When we visit places like this, the biggest thought that goes through my mind is, WE HAVE THIS IN VINTON, AND IT’S 10 TIMES BETTER! (My thoughts are always in capital letters) The next thought I have is, WHY CAN’T WE BRING PEOPLE TO VINTON SO THEY CAN EXPERIENCE OUR GREAT COMMUNITY ATTRACTIONS, STORES, RESTAURANTS, OR BE ENTERTAINED, OR POSSIBLY STAY?
I’m here to tell you, we have rich history. We have one of the most beautiful courthouses in the state of Iowa inside and out. We visited a community in central Iowa that promotes their courthouse. Granted, it was/is a beautiful piece of architecture on the outside, but when we toured the inside. It did not, and I repeat…..did not hold a candle to our gorgeous Benton County Courthouse. Our courthouse is listed on the Historical Registry and is “tour ready”.
We are also blessed to have one of the most beautiful railroad depots in the nation. This great piece of architecture is one of the few that has not been destroyed by vandalism. Our Historical Society is actively caring for this building but it is in need of funds for heating and air conditioning so it can be preserved and continue to be an attraction for our community.
Another incredible piece of history is our very own Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School where Mary Ingalls – sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder came to live and go to school after she became blind at the age of 14. Who hasn’t read the Little House on the Prairie Books as a kid or at least heard about them? We have a group of dedicated individuals who are currently working to give tours through the school and display things like Mary’s grade books and a replica of her diploma. Once the roof is repaired, hold onto your hats, because great things are coming!
We have great restaurants and I’m telling you we have a variety that most communities would die for!
We have wonderful retail stores in our downtown and on the outskirts of town. We have owners who excel at merchandising and displaying their wares. We couldn’t ask for a better retail community, because we have it right here in Vinton.
We have beautiful, well maintained parks that can hold festivals like Party in the Park and a brand new Celebration Park along the river which folks on a motorcoach could stop off enjoy the relaxing sounds of the Cedar River and eat a boxed lunch.
We have a walking or driving tour of the Wall Dogs Murals which is adds a wonderful artistic addition to our beautiful renovated downtown area. We now have a driving tour of the incredible tree sculptures that Vinton’s very own talented son, Brian Parr created.
We have fun events like the 4th Street Cruise, Boomtown, the Benton County Fair, the Mini Masters golf extravaganza, and a lighted Christmas Parade.
We have the Palace Theater that shows current (digital) movies at an affordable price and we have a one of the most active and talented theater groups - ACT1 of Benton County.
And last but not least, we have a Cobblestone Inn and Modern Motel to stay in. Most communities our size don’t have that!
The next question you might ask me is, “So Sue, what are you doing as a VU Board Member to attract motorcoaches to Vinton?” Here’s what I’d tell you:
In addition to the four main subcommittees - Business Promotions, Industry & Development, Membership and Community Affairs, the VU Board added a new committee called Destination Vinton which I now head. Over the last couple years, this group has become a member of Eastern Iowa Tourism Association (EITA), the Iowa Group Travel Association (IGTA) and is now partnering with the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVACVB). All of these opportunities help promote Vinton and tell people not only in Iowa but folks who live outside Iowa about our wonderful community and what we have to see and do here.
For the last 2 years, we have had a booth at Travel Iowa Marketplace Convention which is held annually at a chosen destination in Iowa. Last November, Nathan Hesson and Nancy Boeckman manned a booth in Pella and took one of Brian Parr’s mobile carvings and brochures about the driving tour of his sculptures. They also had other brochures and information about what there is to see and do in Vinton. Over 70 tour directors attended not only from Iowa, but from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This membership to Iowa Group Travel Association (IGTA) gives Vinton exposure to the American Bus Association, Heritage Club International, Bank Travel and the National Travel Association. We are also on their website which is www.iowagrouptravel.org.
We most recently became a partner of the Cedar Rapids Area Visitors and Convention Bureau. This provides a number of benefits. The most recent benefit was we placed an ad in their 2014 Visitors Guide. Last year alone, this guide’s distribution was 45,000 and their website exposure of the Guide was viewed 90,000 times which hit nationally and in 2 foreign countries! The 2014 Guide is on their website at www.cedar-rapids.com. Find the Guide and check out page 40 and the ad on page 45.
The Eastern Iowa Tourism Association (EITA) covers a 28 county region. We are on their website and listed in the Eastern Iowa Tourism Visitors Guide. We rely on our county supervisors to be supportive of this group because EITA is a vital organization which ties us to the main Iowa State Tourism Office in Des Moines. Nathan and I attended a meeting in Cedar Rapids on January 8th at the beautiful Museum of Art. We got to meet with and talk to people who work in the Iowa State Tourism office. We got to hear what our state’s view is of tourism and what they do to support us to attract travelers to our communities and I’m not just talking about attracting people to cities like Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. They want to help communities like Vinton because they know small towns like us have a lot to offer travelers. During the meeting, I can’t tell you how many times I heard the word “partnering”. It is the way of the world folks. We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and hope to survive. We have to reach out beyond our borders to work with other communities in and around our county. What happens in the long run with this “partnering concept” is that it becomes a win-win situation. It becomes a “if you scratch my back, then I’ll scratch yours” scenario. Everyone who is successful is partnering with other communities in and around their counties.
Also at the EITA Meeting, they shared that our Governor supports the tourism industry (key word here – INDUSTRY) in Iowa. The Cedar Rapids Gazette just last year reported that the Tourism Industry is a $7 billion dollar industry in Iowa and generates $328 million dollars in state taxes annually. Obviously the highest tourism expenditures are in Polk, Linn, Black Hawk, Scott, and Johnson County.
But friends, please think about this…..who is smack dab in the middle of 2 of the largest tourism counties? Yep! Your very own Vinton and Benton County. I just told you what Vinton has to offer. I would love tell you what the rest of the Benton County has to offer, but that would take another article. What I’m telling you is WE have an AWESOME community and county with TONS of things to offer people to see and do to spend time and money. And by the way, there are statistics on how much people spend in a community in a day when they travel. WE have AWESOME people who live and work in this community and county. There is absolutely no reason I can think of why a motorcoach tour wouldn’t want to stop here, spend time and money in Vinton or Benton County. You all know the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well I believe it takes a village to keep a community vibrant and vital. We need to continue to work together to promote and attract people to travel to Vinton and our county.
There is, however, still a lot of work to do and things we’ve started should not be stopped at this point. We have to continue to move forward, but in order to do that we need the help and continued support of our county supervisors, city leaders, individuals, businesses and the industries that are part of this wonderful community we live in.
It takes money to pay memberships to organizations like IGTA, EITA and CRACVB. It takes money to print the existing brochures and to print and design new ones which can be placed in Eastern Iowa Visitor’s Centers to attract travelers to our great community. It takes money to have the technology and flexible website capabilities to support Vinton/Benton County to tell “our story” and keep “our story” in front of people. We need volunteers not only to continue our work on committees like Destination Vinton, but all the other committees that make up Vinton Unlimited. Your membership dues as an individual, business or industry level are vital to Vinton Unlimited so we can continue paying memberships to organizations such as IGTA, EITA and CRACVB so we can stay connected and continue each year to promote Vinton at these levels. If you aren’t already a VU member, please thoughtfully consider becoming a member as an individual, business or industry partner. We need your support and want to be your “partner” so we can continue to promote Vinton. If we work together, people will want to tour our wonderful attractions, shop in our business, eat in our restaurants, and come to be part of our fun annual events.
Please feel free to contact the Vinton Unlimited office, me or anyone one of our board members if you have questions, want to volunteer on a committee or become a member. We want to be your partner and we want to stay connected!
Vinton Unlimited Board Member
Heritage Club Director, FSB&T – Vinton
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