Virginia City’s tourism on the go
Virginia City has long carved its own niche in the northern Nevada tourism sector.
With its bevy of historic buildings such as the Fourth Ward School and a sampling of popular special events such as the camel and ostrich and outhouse races serving as drawing cards.
But Virginia City’s director of tourism, Deny Dotson, is hopeful some recent public and private investments plus grabbing other events will enhance the area’s tourism growth.
For instance, last year the Virginia City Fairgrounds and Arena was developed on an area in the south edge of town to attract more events to town and to better accommodate existing ones.
It currently can seat 2,200 spectators, but Dotson said he is scouting the country looking for about 700-1,000 seats by this summer. Regardless it has alleviated some problems such as parking that have cropped up when special events take place.
He noted the ultimate goal is to house an event at the facility every weekend of the year, but with it being an outdoor facility, bad weather may make that unfeasible at this point.
One rodeo promoter who has put on events all over the country is very interested in Virginia City and seriously looking into booking some type of event there in the future.
“It’s already piqued some people’s interest,” Dotson said. “In that window from the middle through September, we’ll try to book whatever we can in there.”
Last year, Virginia began hosting Hot August Nights Opening Parade through downtown. This year’s event in Virginia City is set for July 29-30.
“They’ve (HAN) have been excellent to work with and it’s brought some great exposure to the town,” Dotson said.
Some new businesses have been also added to aid the town’s toursim. Virginia City Brewery and Taphouse, located in an old 1800s building at 62 North C Street, opened last year after an extensive renovation. It’s Virginia City’s first operating brewery since 1995 and has already garnered a healthy following from locals and tourists.
Virginia City Brewery and Taphouse is one of a few new establishments that have sprung up in the town and provides another attraction for various generations of visitors already enamored with Virginia City’s Old West-like atmosphere.
“For Millennials, it’s a favorite place to take picture and tweet it out,” Dotson joked.
The Gold Hill Hotel in the town of the same name south of Virginia City provides another attraction for visitors, especially those intrigued by the supernatural forces.
But even with its reopening, the area still only has 200 hotel rooms, something the area has had to contend with over the years.
That’s why Virginia City relies mainly on a quarter-cent sales tax rather than hotel room tax to garner revenue.
“If you want a cheap room, then Virginia City is probably not for you. But you want an experience. If you want to chase ghosts, go to a lecture series, or stay in the oldest operating hotel in Nevada (Gold Hill Hotel), or check out an old-style mansion with all the antique furniture, then Virginia City is the place to go,” Dotson said.
Virginia City rarely markets itself outside of the state, but sometimes makes appearances at trade shows in Reno or Las Vegas or in the Bay Area. Officials defer to larger tourism entities such as the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (RSCVA) or the Nevada Commission on Tourism (TravelNevada) to do much of the leg work.
But it has found some other creative ways to advertise the town for other areas.
Virginia City’s tourism department in conjunction with the Comstock Cemetery Foundation began promoting its “Cemetery Gin” born from a tall tale from the Comstock’s mining folklore in the 1850s. The gin is produced by Frey Ranch Estate Distillery in Fallon, and sold in bottles at 32 locations throughout northern Nevada. (see sidebar)
One dollar from each bottle sold goes to benefit the foundation to help preserve the historic cemeteries located around Virginia City.
If sales go as hoped in the region, Dotson said they would consider marketing the product to areas in other parts of the country, including the Bay Area.
Virginia City has partnered with RAD Strategies, a public relations and marketing firm to handle much of its marketing efforts, including promoting the gin as well as managing its social media outlets.
“We’ve gone from a few hundred Facebook friends to 27,000 in a short period of time. Instagram, with it being very photogenic, is a perfect fit for us. With all the quirky angles and old buildings or winter shots, the interaction is incredible,” Dotson said.
Toursim officals paired with a local videographerto unveil a campaign with a series of videos depicting early life in the town. Te videos will run on YouTube or TV commercials, among other outlets.
When Dotson took over to lead the tourism efforts,the department had a small staff and things weren’t well-organized. He noted there was little resources for marketing and special events sometimes came and went.
“We had a small staff. We were lucky to post a pic of the July 4 parade, special events, no consistency in events,” Dotson, who has lived in the area since 1999.
Dotson, a novice in tourism, has worked in marketing for the corporate world. He diligently got things going in the right direction. They made efforts such as streamlining permitting for special events and providing a one-stop shop for event promotion.
“It’s worked out very well,” Dotson said.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.