Members of the Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau aim to make the city a more desirable target destination for tourists wanting to explore southern history.
In the process, they plan on enhancing the appeal of the city for locals and travelers alike by increasing the awareness of Richmond’s Hill’s historical significance and enhancing the landmarks here.
Former Savannah CVB member Andy Uhlig, who now works for coastal tourism throughout Coastal Georgia, said that Richmond Hill has a tremendous amount of potential to feed off the tourism that is pouring into nearby Savannah.
"When I was in Savannah, I was constantly being asked by tourists ‘what else is there to do’," said Uhlig. "The answer, if they play their cards right, is Richmond Hill."
CVB Chairman Larry Barker says that the duty of the CVB is to promote tourism. He, along with CVB Director Christy Hyer and the current CVB board members, have been creating a plan to do this via a historical angle which includes a large scale restoration project at the Richmond Hill Historical Society Museum as the new base for the CVB."We’re focusing on our vision of expanding our strongest asset, which we decided was the rich history of the area," Barker said. "We met with the historical society to distinguish all the historical features in the community that have merit in order to incorporate them into the museum. We’re also going to use those themes to promote the various points of interest in and around the city."
He cited the rice field at J.F. Gregory as hidden gem.
"Most don’t realize that they’re looking at an 18th century working rice plantation, and we want erect a storyboard there about it," Barker said.
He added that the museum will focus on the five eras of Richmond Hill which are Indian, Colonial, Antebellum (civil war era), and the Ford era. The newly renovated museum is slated to open on April 28.
"It (museum) will be the welcome center, and we’d like everyone in town to know to send people there," Hyers said. "In conjunction with the museum opening, we also plan to have the historical marker program underway where anyone that has a house that was built prior to 1951 can apply to get a historical marker. We’d like to have all the historical buildings accessible to a walking or driving tour."
"From a marking perspective, we are branding Richmond Hill as a historical day trip," Barker said. "This will include new signs going up in a few weeks near the I-95 exits saying ‘Welcome to historic Richmond Hill’. Everything we want to do is saying historic Richmond Hill. Quite frankly, we’re not making this up because it’s here. Richmond Hill really is historic. We’re just going to tell the world about it."
As part of a recent campaign, the CVB played host to 29 travel writers and tour operators that came to Richmond Hill to explore the city. The visit peaked with an elaborate meal at the Ford Plantation.
Fort McAllister park manager and newest CVB member Dan Brown and his daughter, dressed in period clothing, greeted visitors and led them to an elaborate table setting.
Mayor Richard Davis, who sat at the head of the table, gave a speech on the history of the city.
The menu was complimented by a menu book describing the local historical significance to each menu item such as a salad of iceberg lettuce complete with old photos of workers cutting lettuce in Richmond Hill and a story of how potent an industry lettuce was to the city in the 1940s.
An old picture of the historic Ford era sweet shop complemented the rice pudding dessert along with a story about the rice fields behind J.F. Gregory Park.
"Savannah and the Golden Isles are already on their itineraries for these visiting tour operators, and they are looking for other experiences on the Georgia coast for their tour groups," said Uhlig. "We anticipate groups to come due to this recent campaign."
Another function, similar to this one, is planned for June.
Barker said he would eventually like to build a partnership with a Savannah trolley company to facilitate a day tour of Richmond Hill which would include the antebellum homes, the rice fields, museum, and a boat tour on the Ogeechee.
"That would be a fun day for somebody," Barker said. "It could easily be made into a cost-effective package that would be a win-win for all parties. A win for the city, a win for the tour operator, and certainly a win for the people coming to Richmond Hill."
Barker also spoke about ongoing projects to enhance the look of downtown Richmond Hill, such as Station Xchange and the Streetscape project, which he said will enhance the CVB’s vision.
"It’s really interesting to be here now with all of this taking place in the not so distant future," said CVB board member Aimee Harris. "I also think it’s important to say that locals are not paying for any of this. It’s coming straight out of a percentage of the hotel/motel tax."
Hyers says that the past work of the RH CVB has already brought in a tremendous amount of tourism, and she anticipates that their current project will multiply those figures.
"This past year, we’ve seen a $100,000 increase in revenue from the hotel/motel tax," said Hyers. "You can’t argue with the numbers. The average Richmond Hill person doesn’t see what we’re doing but we are making an impact."