Patrick Kaler left the county Jan. 1 to take a job at Visit Buffalo Niagara in New York. The Times-Mirror set up an exit interview with the outgoing Visit Loudoun president and CEO to discuss highs, lows and what he would tell his successor to expect in the year to come.
What was the biggest surprise about the area when you started with Visit Loudoun?
The first thing was reestablishing relationships and marrying the eastern side of the county with the western side of the county.
There were lots of perceptions that the organization was just so focused on the hotels in the east and that's all Visit Loudoun was about.
I spent a lot of time talking to the rural side of the county, to our attractions.
I let them know, yes, midweek the hotels on the eastern side of the county are really the bread and butter, but it's all about the leisure side of things.
People don't come here just because we have a certain hotel, they're coming here because we have Civil War history, we have the wine industry, and so it was marrying all those parts together.
I think that there was a misconception of what Visit Loudoun's role or purpose was before I got here, that it was just focused on the hotels.
Yes, that's where our TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) is generated and where we get our funding, but unless you have everything else, there's really no reason to come to Loudoun County.
Does Loudoun have a distinct identity from the Washington Metropolitan area?
I definitely think so, because of the DC's Wine Country, and because we have Dulles International Airport.
We would ask, 'Have you ever been to Loudoun County?' Nope, never been there. 'Well have you ever been to Dulles International Airport?'
Oh, yeah. Yeah, been there many of times.' We'd say, well you've been to Loudoun County, now you need to know what else you can do in Loudoun County besides just land at our airport.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement during your tenure with Visit Loudoun?
There are three areas of the organization where I feel I have been able to make some changes: administratively, marketing, and sales.
Administratively, I am excited about some of the structural changes I have made.
One of those was creating the director of business strategy and research position. It keeps the organization focused.
For marketing, one of the things we did was put all of our research dollars into our foundation, which has a research and education component to it, but it also allows us to go and leverage that money with Virginia Tourism Marketing Corporation and their marketing leverage grant.
So we are applying for a grant that will hopefully allow us to put more money into research.
Another thing that I am very proud of is that we are putting in a new metric system to measure the staff as far as what they are doing on a quarterly basis.
We call it a Personal Performance Objective program or PPO. We are meeting or exceeding our sales goals this year.
Update: Visit Loudoun and the Visit Loudoun Foundation received the grant money.
Epicurience was a major project for you. How successful do you consider it and where would you like to see the festival go next?
First year, I am happy with the way it turned out, especially for the time frame we had to market and promote it.
Get vendors and everything. I mean didn't even really start the marketing aspect of it until April/May.
This year there will be a full year to plan for that event. We had 1,200 people that showed up.
We had the perfect number of vendors that showed up.
What did you learn from the event?
We learned a lot.
It wasn't a perfect event.
The online ticketing registration was a nightmare. We are taking steps to improve that next year.
The ticket price, yes, we overshot on that and we learned from that. We can get to that $95 ticket price down the road.
We know that the first few years is going to be a local event until it grows and gets total awareness.
I invite anybody that had a bad experience with the ticketing, give us a second chance this year.
How important is tourism for a community like Loudoun? What are the end benefits to the people who live here?
When businesses are looking for places to locate their facilities, they look at a community to look at how vibrant it is.
I think tourism plays a good role in that. For our residents, the tourism dollars that are brought into the community actually provide a tax relief for them.
Tourists don't use our schools, they don't use our services, police, fire. They come in, and they leave, but they leave a lot of money behind. Last year tourism provided a $604 per household tax relief.
Is there sufficient funding and governmental support for tourism efforts?
The TOT has to be used and, this is state mandated, has to be used for tourism marketing.
This is something that is lost in translation when you are talking tourism to the community.
They think that their own personal taxes go to fund Visit Loudoun and they don't.
It is from the visitors, and it is mandated that that money be used for tourism purposes.
I think that the funding structure that is set up and in place now is fine, it's sufficient for what we do.
What should Visit Loudoun look for in finding a permanent replacement as the president and CEO?
I think they should look for somebody who is going to have a passion for the urban and the rural. It's a juggling act to make people feel involved. It is also important to be present and involved with the government officials.
What is one thing Loudoun's tourism industry should focus on more?
One thing for our county that would be a game changer – and this goes back to our research – is having an indoor sports facility.
We did a two-part study on the sports impact on the county as well as a feasibility study for an indoor sports facility.
Because of our research there are developers looking at constructing something.
I imagine it would be somewhere in eastern Loudoun County, that's closer to the hotel facilities.
Also it would need to be multi-purpose, so we could do indoor soccer, basketball. Some of the bigger things that might surprise people that do have a larger economic impact are cheer and dance.
One of the other things to take into consideration is that this facility could also serve the purpose of holding our high school graduations.