On Friday, Visit Loudoun, Loudoun County’s travel and tourism agency, celebrated the people and organizations that helped make Loudoun the place to be over the past year at its 23rd Annual Meeting and Tourism Awards.
Shocktober, the Arc of Loudoun’s popular haunted house, was recognized as both the annual event of the year and with the 2018 Tourism Action Award for its contributions to nonprofits.
According to Visit Loudoun, since it began in 2010, Shocktober has raised more than $2.3 million for the Arc of Loudoun. Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked it the fifth-best haunted house in the country, and in 2017 had more than 17,600 guests.
The event’s organizers have also arranged a growing number of partnerships with other businesses in the county, including Old Ox Brewery, Tarara Winery, and the National Conference Center. In 2018, they also had help from 343 volunteers who put in more than 10,500 hours of work.
The money the event raises supports the nonprofit Arc of Loudoun’s programs to advocate for and provide direct service to people with disabilities, as well as their families, caretakers, and the professionals who work with them. That includes a variety of programs at Paxton Campus in Leesburg, including the Aurora School, Open Door Learning Center Preschool, ALLY “A Life Like Yours” Advocacy Center, Aurora Behavior Clinic and Ability Fitness Center.
It also includes the We Scare Because We Care Grant Program, which extends that fundraising to other nonprofits.
The event’s highest honor, the Judy Patterson Award, went to the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. Named for one of Visit Loudoun’s founders, the award recognizes an organization for a commitment to sustainability and enhancing Loudoun County. The restaurant, opened by Bevery Morton BIlland in 1986, was one of the first farm restaurants in the United States, and helped define the “earth to table” movement.
The restaurant, with its organic, local cuisine is also highly regarded in culinary circles. Chef Tarver King has been featured in a range of lifestyle and food magazines, been named by Esquire as one of the top five chefs to watch, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington 2017 Chef of the Year, and a James Beard finalist for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic.
The ceremony also recognized several others.
This year’s award for a new event went to Hillsboro’s Gardens in the Gap, a two-day event of garden tours, lectures, tea parties, music, and an artisan, plant and craft fair. The event sold out every bed and breakfast in the area.
The marketing campaign of the year was Salamander Resort and Spa’s “Keeping Up with Cupcake,” which introduced followers to a miniature pony and drew national attention to Loudoun as the equestrian capital of Virginia.
The 2018 #LoveLoudoun Ambassador of the Year was Dustin Spencer, the manager of Black Olive Bar & Grill at The National Conference Center. Spencer has overseen the effort to bring craft beers and local sourcing into the Black Olive, resulting in a six-figure increase in beer sales there.
The 2018 Steven Hines Partner of the Year was Ford’s Fish Shack. Owner Tony Stafford is vice chairman of the Visit Loudoun Foundation, along with being involved in many other community organizations and efforts. He also fed hundreds of Transportation Safety Administration agents at Dulles Airport during the most recent federal government shutdown.
The 2018 Distinguished Partnership was with Loudoun County government, which has made bringing D.C.-area daily rates for federal employees back to Loudoun County hotels. In 2007, the U.S. General Services Administration removed Loudoun from the D.C.-area non-standard rate area, meaning federal employees staying at Loudoun hotels got only a fraction of the allowance for a nightly hotel stay compared to jurisdictions to the east. Loudoun County made it one of its top legislative initiatives, and while the county still hasn’t been brought back into the regional rates, last fall per diem rates were raised $6.
Amy Denton of DiVine Wine Tours of Virginia and Rebecca Rally of Bluemont Vineyard tied for the 2018 Manager of the Year.
Helen Kendall, the human resources manager of the National Conference Center, won the 2018 Back of the House Hero award.
Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson said tourism contributes to the quality of life in Loudoun.
“The tourism economy, including the agricultural-based economy, has been critical in keeping the rural landscape intact,” Erickson said. She also said a study commissioned this year found in 2018, Loudoun’s agritourism businesses hosted 1.2 million visitors, with a total economic impact of $413.6 million.
“Loudoun County’s like the perfect place,” said the event’s keynote speaker, Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO Rita McClenny. “It’s got everything.”
The event took place during National Travel and Tourism Week, and also featured the debut of local music star Todd Wright’s new song “Coming Home,” commissioned by Visit Loudoun. It was also the unveiling of Visit Loudoun’s Summer of Love Tour, marking the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand, and the 1970 Volkswagen bus decorated and serving as a mobile visitor’s center.