Tired of ‘Tourism Wars’

Visitors Center

What is increasing tourism, and what is simply causing friction?

Any entity that tries to serve the broad section of the business community has a tough task ahead of them. The interests and concerns of businesses vary so much from industry to industry, and store to store, that it’s nearly impossible to please them all…much less mixing in individual personalities, attitudes and biases.

Under that premise, we offer our empathy and understanding to groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the Luray Downtown Initiative, the county’s Economic Development and Tourism office, the Tourism Council, and even the town council and board of supervisors that oversee or help fund them. Among the various committees, programs, websites, workshops, “tool boxes” and other initiatives presented to improve the business environment, few will be universally supported or valued. However, in the end, regardless of the efforts of the public sector, private investment is the true engine driving sustainable economic development.

Over the years, there have been disagreements about how to promote the area and generate more tourist dollars. Some say the focus should be on downtown business branding, others want to focus on events drawing crowds; some say we should incorporate a countywide approach, and still others believe that cabin owners are the real cash cows that should be given carte blanche.

While we could pen a 10-part Time-Life series on the trials and tribulations of the local tourism industry over the past two decades — from discussions on placing restrooms along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, to the potential widening of the “scenic” Route 340 to four lanes — we could equally create a Netflix docu-drama about the relationships between the county’s Economic Development and Tourism office and other tourism agencies across the county over the past three years. From the creation of a “new” Tourism Council filled with cabin owners, to a proposal to spend $5 million-plus in public funds to build a new brick-and-mortar visitor’s center, this office has made a lot of waves, but few allies.

While plans for the Page Valley Cultural Center and Business Hub appear to be dead — the board of supervisors has never received an update on the business plan they requested, and the steering committee that was formed has never met — the current chapter in the ongoing “Tourism Wars” has the county’s Economic Development and Tourism office still pursuing its overall goal of taking over operations of the Luray-Page County Visitor’s Center from the Chamber of Commerce.

It all started back in February when the Chamber approached the county about funds they had not used because they didn’t hire a fifth employee. Instead of rewarding the Chamber for its efficiency and savings, the county took the opportunity to reduce the Chamber’s funding — with the stated intention of shifting funding for the operation of the Visitor’s Center from the Chamber to the county’s Economic Development and Tourism office.

Tonight (June 3), the Page County Board of Supervisors will go into closed session to discuss this very matter. We ask that they consider the following issues:

• Why are we moving the Visitors Center? The Chamber holds a three-year lease on the train depot with the Town of Luray. When the county approached the Chamber about subleasing the space from them to run the Visitors Center, the executive council of the Chamber was agreeable — as long as the Chamber continued to operate the Center. So, it would appear that one reason we are considering moving the Visitor’s Center is simply because the Economic Development and Tourism office can’t work together with the Chamber.

• Where are we going to move the Visitors Center to? The Economic Development and Tourism office has reportedly secured a potential space along Luray’s Main Street. This begs the questions…will there be adequate parking?… how accessible will the space be? … how do we redirect tourists, especially repeat visitors, who are used to the current location? … how will the aesthetics compare to the renovated depot? Will the new location be a step back, rather than a step forward?

• How will it be staffed? Currently, the Chamber of Commerce staffs the Luray-Page County Visitors Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Will the county do that? How many additional employees will that require?

• Why is this even needed at all? What’s broke? What needs fixing? What’s the real motivation here? What is the county going to do to improve the service? How is this going to put more “heads in beds”? It’s not. It’s only going to cause more riffs in the local tourism industry.

Why would the county turn over a long-standing tourism service that is working just fine, over to a department that is still unproven? From the public’s point of view, the only thing that has been accomplished by the Economic Development and Tourism office under its current leadership is to spend $50,000 to develop a website…and then another $5,000 for an open bar party to celebrate the website’s launch (as well as fonts and colors chosen for a new logo) at the Mimslyn Inn. That event was attended by about 30 people, including a few county officials, a few Tourism Council members, and the office staff. The local historic hotel may have received a little economic development that day, but what else does that office have to show for their time? Professional photos of local cabins, videos about local cabins, aerial shots of local cabins…notice a trend?

The board of supervisors needs to step up and demand that this office focus more on creating jobs — the economic development portion — rather than worrying about where the brochures and recommendations are coming from on where to eat in town. More jobs is a real issue that needs addressing; more “heads in beds” is the mantra of a self-absorbed, short-term rental industry that is still dreaming of returning to COVID revenues when demand was at a historic high.

Some supervisors say they are confused on the issue because they are hearing two different stories regarding the Visitors Center. That’s probably true. In response, they should ask themselves, who has tried to consider compromise and who has tried to undercut their opponent at every turn? Which side is trying to build bridges, while the other is burning them down?

One of the key publicly stated purposes of the proposed Page Valley Cultural Center and Business Hub was to bring tourism efforts under one roof, to create a collaboration among these agencies and find better ways to serve visitors and locals alike. Then why did the project, and that office, create so much divisiveness?

We are tired of the “Tourism Wars.” Tourism is still very strong in the Page Valley. It always will be due to our natural resources, and revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax will continue to grow. It’s not a problem that needs fixing.

What is helping grow tourism, and what is simply a power struggle resulting in divisiveness? Perhaps the county should evaluate the Economic Development and Tourism office the same way that office and the Tourism Council evaluate applicants for TOT funds. What is the county getting for its investment?

While we spoke in length with the Chamber president before penning this editorial, we received only one response from Nina Long Fox, director of the Page County Economic Development and Tourism office, when she was asked to appear on our YouTube show “Page Valley Livin'” to answer questions about how the county plans to facilitate the takeover of the Visitors Center on July 1, an update on the planned cultural center, an update on the proposed meat processing plant, and any other projects the office was working on…

Fox conveniently stated, “I have no comment.”

    For more information about the Page County Economic Development and Tourism office,




    Supervisors double TOT rate to 10% and adopt $90.3M budget for FY25

    Lodging owners speak out against proposed doubling of lodging tax

    Chamber to disband its Tourism Council during annual business meeting Oct. 19

    Economic Development and Tourism director returns to work 10 weeks after resignation with $8,000 raise

    New tourism council cuts Chamber funding, limits tourism operations to Visitors Center

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    1. A great article by Mr. Arrington. Is humanity great or what? Everybody wants more, more, more, and they, each one, has their own special idea to get it. Especially if it’s going to knock somebody else’s idea. As far as I’m concerned, everybody else’s idea on “tourism” is a bowling pin and I’m going to roll a sidewinder strike. Just leave the Train Station visitor center alone, and don’t do anything else except stop interfering with private investment. The constant changes scare away private investment.

    2. The Chamber of Commerce and LDI are doing a fantastic job! I do t understand what is going on. During the concerts at Ruffner Plaza that draws locals and tourists is not even funded by economic development council. I know this for a fact and the July 4th celebration did not receive any monies from the county. If it isn’t broke why try to fix something that is working great. Our Chamber and LDI are doing a fantastic job

    3. These silly and unnecessary “tourism wars” are not just the machinations of an overzealous and unqualified Economic Development Director, but the “wind in her sails” comes directly from those individuals on the County’s “Tourism Council” – and a few on the Board of Supervisor too. So, don’t forget the names, Montgomery, Riddle, Howan, Price, Jenkins, Cave, and Morton – they are equally (if not more) culpable for this silly side show small county politics rodeo…

    4. I’m so glad to have the Luray Depot as a source of history and information center… tourism can take a toll sometimes especially when the cyclists are having their marathon on the back roads of Page County…I have met them on curves on River road and come awful close to a bad accident… Another point I’d like to make and it may not even be related to this article but I’m sure Mr Sanford will agree with me on this…I’ve just watched THE BURNING…A documentary DVD about Phil Sheridan burning the Shenandoah valley … Even though alot of barns and livestock were lost in Page County there is absolutely no mention of Page County in the documentary…The DVD was created and funded by the Edinburg historical society…I’m not sure what the details are that caused Page County Heritage association or whatever other entity that dropped the ball here and lost a golden opportunity to be mentioned and foretold of one of the worst episodes of the civil war in the BURNING of the valley…Page County is however mentioned in the book….but not the DVD….

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