Five winners from among a nominee list of events, attractions, organizations, and individuals have been chosen by an impartial panel to receive the 2022 Southern Delaware Tourism Awards. The awards were presented on December 14th at the Annual Southern Delaware Tourism Awards Luncheon held at The Lighthouse Cove Event Center in Dewey Beach, DE.
Tourism is a $2.3+ billion (and growing!) industry in Sussex County. In fact, more than 16% of all jobs in the county – almost 20,000 of them – are tourism related. And tourism revenue saves each Delaware household over $1,600 in taxes each year. This is definitely due, in large part, to our fortunate geographical location and our beautiful 5 Star beaches – but it’s also the result of a lot of initiative, creativity, planning and hard work by the many people and organizations who strive to keep up with changing travel trends and to create and provide the types of attractions, events, activities, and services that drive visitors to Sussex County.
Southern Delaware Tourism congratulates all of the 2022 nominees. “This year’s voting was extremely close. All of this year’s nominees are very deserving of the award as their contributions help make Sussex County such a special and beloved destination,” says Scott Thomas, Executive Director of Southern Delaware Tourism.
Winners were named in each of five categories in 2022 including Best New Event, Best Event, Best Attraction, Philanthropic Award, and Tourism Partner of the Year. The 2022 Southern Delaware Tourism Awards winners are:
Best New Event Category: Winner: Schellville. Schellville welcomed 104,000 visitors during the weekends from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve 2021. They welcomed people from all over Delaware, plus MD, VA, PA, NJ, NY, DC and more to their free event. Their location behind the Tanger Outlet Center gave visitors the opportunity to do some “pregame” tax-free shopping just a mile away from the famous Rehoboth Beach and Boardwalk. Word of the event was spread far and wide via their Facebook page posts and other social media platforms. The event included local food specialties, a Hospitality Tent, a beer garden, nightly live music and fantastic artisan vendors. Volunteer elves (439 of them filling 8,000 volunteer time slots) conducted 2,496 “Schellville Express” train rides, served up 12,300 hot cocoas, handed out 15,259 pairs of roller skates for roller skating under the lights, and installed 1,600 live Christmas trees for our amazing Tree Maze. They made “snow” for epic snowball fights, built 18 miniature houses and businesses with furniture and toys for little children to enjoy, offered lounge areas with fire pits and had Santa and Mrs. Claus on duty every night. Although admission to the event was free for all, they raised funds through a percentage of food and artisan vendor’s sales. $84,600 was donated to help end childhood hunger in Delaware and $741,000. was spent at local small businesses.
Best Event Category: Winner: 302 Day. In 2022 several organizations came together to expand on the previous work that had been done to produce a Delaware focused Official 302 Day Celebration at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton. Initiated by KAM Productions, creators of the 302 Horseshoe Crab lifestyle brand, the day was a homage to the 302 area code of the slight but mighty state of Delaware and celebrating the goodness of the First State. The multi-day event consisted of a kick-off party on Wednesday, March 2 at the Dogfish Head Tasting Room in Milton. The main event, the Official 302 Day Celebration, occurred on Saturday March 5 on the grassy knoll outside the brewery. The Official 302 Day Celebration highlighted some of the things that makes Delaware so special, including 302 Horseshoe Crab gear, Dogfish Head beers, the Delaware State Parks Airstream Travel Trailer selling annual park passes, Fifer Orchards goodies and music from DJ Droid and Homestead Bluegrass. A portion of beer sales and a raffle was held with proceeds going to the benefit Friends of Delaware State Parks. To cap it off, a costume contest was held for the best outfit that demonstrated Delaware’s spirit. After months of planning, the event was a giant success with an estimated 1,500 people in attendance. Attendees came from all over the state, representing a diverse group of individuals, families and dogs, while providing a fun community activity early in March when there were not a lot of other events occurring. Sales records were set for many of the participating vendors including the highest number of guests in March at the tasting room and over $3,000 raised for charity. The event was covered by the media and the social media feedback was incredibly strong. Due to the success of the event, planning is underway to continue to grow the Official 302 Day Celebration for future years.
Best Attraction Category: Winner: The Delaware Botanic Gardens (DBG), uniquely run by community volunteers, first opened in September 2019. That was followed by two years of COVID related restrictions that negatively impacted the gardens’ open days and hours. Then, in 2022, the gardens experienced a 167% increase in visitors from March – September compared to 2021, having expanded their open hours by only two hours per day. Docent’s informal conversations with visitors indicate that DBG visitors include those from as far as Belgium, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Out-of-state DBG visitors have included those from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C. area. DBG is now a nationally and internationally recognized public botanic garden destination/attraction. DBG’s marketing – advertising, media relations and community outreach 2021-2022 programs have brought major regional and national attention to Delaware and Sussex County as tourism destinations. The wide scope of DBG’s public outreach and media initiatives have greatly contributed to overall Delaware and Sussex County tourism and visitor recognition. DBG’s visitor success is in large part is due to the collaboration with Delaware and Southern Delaware Tourism offices, the news media, and local community supporters. Other valuable collaborations have included those with Sussex County Chambers of Commerce, accommodations, area businesses, other non-profits, and state parks. Stephen Pryce Lea, DBG Director of Horticulture and Education Programs observes, “Visitors enter the garden gates and leave behind the stress of daily life. They enjoy the peaceful natural atmosphere. When they leave the gardens, they have a smile on their faces. Visitors have somehow been refreshed in spirit by the nature surrounding them. That’s why the gardens are a special destination in Sussex County.”
Philanthropic Award Category: Winner: The Joshua M. Freeman Foundation. Freeman Arts Pavilion and the Foundation’s Arts Access Initiative seek to reach over 120,000 people annually through the arts. the Foundation remains proud and humble of the impact it makes on local school children and their access to free arts programming, whether in their schools, community organizations, or at the Pavilion. Sadly, most children lack access to even the most basic art supplies and arts performances; when facing budget shortfalls, the arts tend to be the first set of programs that are reduced or eliminated. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic when children were confined to at-home learning, the Foundation forged pathways to keep the arts alive for over 28,000 school children through its innovative Creative Nourishment Art Kits program. The Foundation’s Arts Access Initiative includes Arts Education, Community Access, and the Freeman Arts Pavilion. By the end of 2022, more than 23,000 students will have enjoyed an Arts Education experience. During the 2022 season, 16 Community Access Groups attended performances and 455 individuals from various community groups attended performances at no charge. The Freeman Arts Pavilion presented 16 free evening performances, 11 Young Audience Series Performances, and more than 3,700 attended Young Audience Series Saturday morning shows. In fact, more than 30% of the 2022 season performances were free to the public. Also in 2022, Sonia De Los Santos, Hip Hop Fundamentals and the Uncle Devin Show collectively performed to over 9,000 local school students across Sussex County, DE, and Worcester and Wicomico Counties, MD.
Tourism Partner of the Year: Winner: La Vida Hospitality/Josh Grapski, Managing Partner, Marketing and Development. Southern Delaware Tourism and a consortium of Southern Delaware restaurateurs have partnered to promote Sussex County Delaware’s Culinary Coast™. Through this program we have engaged the services of a public relations firm to collaborate with SDT to amplify and share the unique story of Southern Delaware’s Culinary Coast™ as the premier Mid-Atlantic culinary travel destination. This PR initiative began in 2019, when Josh Grapski approached SDT with the idea for a collective additional investment to generate more regional and national publicity for Southern Delaware’s Culinary Coast™. From the beginning Grapski has been instrumental in formulating the plan for the initiative, participating in interviews, evaluations, and decision making during the process of selecting Baltz and Company as our PR agency; bringing other local culinary businesses on board, assisting in the creation of partner communications, and performing outreach to partners despite the intense schedule he maintains as Managing Partner of La Vida Hospitality. He and his staff also contributed resources and considerable time to the coordination of the Culinary Coast™ pop up event in New York City this past June, including taking the lead on organizing the participation of other Culinary Coast™ partners. La Vida Hospitality also donated an additional annual partnership contribution to help the promotion meet budget goals. Grapski also serves as an advisory SDT board member and chairs SDT’s Culinary Coast™ marketing subcommittee. His enthusiasm, ingenuity, and focus have been a huge driver of the success behind promoting our Culinary Coast™. This initiative has been extremely successful despite the pandemic hitting just as things were getting off the ground. To date, the program has secured coverage in international, national, and regional publications such as Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, National Geographic Traveler, Forbes, Martha Stewart Living, Liquor.com, Men’s Health, The Boston Globe, and Philadelphia Inquirer. In just the past quarter alone, $218,000 in earned publicity value was generated for the Culinary Coast™ and many exciting media partnerships, events, and initiatives are in the works to expand this program in 2023.
Past recipients of the annual award include Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall, the American Legion Family of Post 17, Lewes; Cinema Art Theater, Rehoboth Beach Film Society; Southern Delaware Wine, Food & Music Festival; Delaware Beach Life magazine; Mid Atlantic Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival; Fire & Ice Festival; Ladybug Music Festival; Freeman Stage; Delaware State Parks; Dogfish Dash; Winter Wonderfest; Lefty’s Alley & Eats; Delaware Beach Book; Return Day; First Annual BooBQue by the Sea; Cape Henlopen State Park’s Gordons Pond Trail & Junction and Breakwater Trail; Western Sussex Tourism Committee; The Freeman Stage at Bayside; Nassau Valley Vineyards; the Apple Scrapple Festival; Dogfish Head Brewery Tours; the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival; the Lewes Maritime History Trail; the Ocean to Bay Bike Tour; Eating Rehoboth Walking Food Tours; and The Sea Witch Halloween and Fiddlers’ Festival.
Southern Delaware Tourism supports and encourages the identification, development and promotion of sustainable, year-round tourism in Southern Delaware that contributes to economic growth and improves the quality of life. For more information, call Southern Delaware Tourism at 302-856-1818 or visit their website, www.VisitSouthernDelaware.com.
PHOTO COVER: Philanthropic Award Category: Winner: Joshua M. Freeman Foundation (L-R): State Representative Ron Gray, SDT Board Member Kristin Lang-Miller, Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Development Director Darren Silvis, Joshua M. Freeman Foundation Director of Marketing Chelsea Warren, SDT Executive Director Scott Thomas. (Photo Credit: HOY en Delaware).