Pandemic Drives City Tourism Towards Innovation

4 min read Radford City’s new Info and Welcome Center opens with help from a Virginia Tourism grant, sparking innovation.

Bridge over river

Photo Credit: (Camden Lazenby) Heading towards the Fairlawn bridge on a sunny, Summer day.

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Camden Lazenby | clazenby2@radford.edu

A brand new Radford Info & Welcome Center and five innovative in-and-out signs for popular access points on the New River are the culmination of the City of Radford’s effort to shore up pandemic-related lost tourism.

Obtaining a $10,000 grant from Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) DMO WanderLove Recovery Grant Program, a new funding made available to Virginia’s Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) across the Commonwealth that have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, to fund recovery marketing initiatives. 

“We’re in the process of changing the name, just to kind of educate people about what we do,” Deborah Cooney, Radford City’s Tourism Director, said.

It’s now called the Radford Info and Welcome Center because, from Cooney’s perspective, many local and regional people don’t consider themselves visitors when they come to Radford. Therefore, they weren’t as open to seeking Radford specific adventures. 

Cooney said the Radford Info and Welcome Center has “a lot of information about hikes and trails and wineries.”

“We’re in the process of changing the name, just to kind of educate people about what we do,” Deborah Cooney, Radford City’s Tourism Director, said.

Considering the circumstances, Cooney levied an innovative idea to get the VTC grant.

“So part of our pitch was this digital kiosk as this new way of doing business in the digital world, you know, it’s available whether we’re here or not. Even if our office does get shut down, people will have access to information,” Cooney said.

The kiosk will be available 24 hours, seven days a week. “So if people come, even when we’re not here, it’ll help them push a button and find where the hotels are, push a button and find activities for families with children, or whatever it is we put into that,” Cooney said. “So that should be pretty exciting, and I think the visitors are really going to appreciate that.”

“It won’t take the place of a website [visitradford.com]; it’ll be to help visitors when they’re physically in Radford find things to do, businesses, accommodations, and restaurants. I think it’s going to be awesome.”

River
Photo Credit: (Camden Lazenby) A group tubes down the New River during Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Camden Lazenby

The other side of the coin is the tourism and recreation that’s happening now. The focus is shifting to using the city’s most predominant natural resource, the New River, due to new socially isolated lifestyles.

Liam Harrelson, a sophomore social science education major at Radford University, says he’s been tubing on the New River five times since he moved into his university-owned off-campus apartment Aug. 2. 

Harrelson never went on the river during his freshman year, but he says using the waterfront has made him “feel closer to home.”

Harrelson isn’t alone in using the river more often this year. According to Cooney, “river recreation and usage have really increased this year,” partly because people can stay socially distant on the river.

The focus is shifting to using the city’s most predominant natural resource, the New River, due to new socially isolated lifestyles.

“It’s a good resource to have because you can be socially distant but still be with your friends,” Harrelson said.

To help the numerous New River users, the Tourism Department has put up five brightly colored signs at highly trafficked in-and-out points to show the floaters where they are on the river.

The signs are at Riverview Park, the railroad bridge at the western end of Bisset Park, Dudley’s Landing, the boat launch between Radford University’s Lot FF and the animal shelter, and a final marker at Radford University’s Lot Z parking lot.

Students in river
Photo Credit: (Camden Lazenby) Radford University students tie tubes together before casting off from the western end of Bisset Park.

“We put ‘last take out in Radford’ because we really don’t want people going further than they intend to go because there can be some rapids in that area that can be a challenge,” said Cooney.

In previous years, there has been an outfitter that helped folks get tubes or kayaks and bring them back after their float, but that resource drifted away when Nesselrod Bed and Breakfast closed at the end of last year.

Cooney said, “The outfitter that was there was also involved in another business that closed, so we did not get a bid, and then the pandemic hit, and we just could not get somebody to bid on it.” He noted a connection between the closing of the Bed and Breakfast and the loss of the previous river outfitter.

Harrelson says he’s never gone tubing through a company, but it’s something he’s familiar with from his hometown and thinks, “it would be a great resource to have down here, for the students at least.”

Radford Info & Welcome Center has moved offices to a new free-standing building at 701A West Main Street. It is now open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.