Five winners from among a nominee list of events, attractions, and organizations have been chosen by a panel of impartial travel writers to receive the 2018 Southern Delaware Tourism Awards. The awards were presented on December 6 at the Annual Southern Delaware Tourism Awards Luncheon held at The Clubhouse at Baywood in Millsboro, DE.
Tourism in Sussex County generates $1.7 billion in GDP annually and supports 18,000 jobs. These annual awards recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding and significant contributions to the enrichment of the tourism economy in Sussex County over the past year.
“This year’s voting was extremely close; in fact we have a tie for the first time ever in one category. All of this year’s nominees are very deserving of the award as they provide wonderful experiences for our visitors and help make Sussex County such a special and beloved destination,” said Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism.
Winners were named in each of four categories in 2018 including Best New Event, Best Event, Best Attraction, and Tourism Partner of the Year. The 2018 awards winners include:
Best New Event
Two events tied for this award. They are:
Fire & Ice Festival: Held over a late January weekend, the inaugural Fire & Ice Festival organized by the Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce – the first and only ice festival in the state of Delaware – drew approximately 4,000 visitors from 12 states who enjoyed 22 ice sculpture along the sculpture tour, live demonstrations, ice rink, culinary tour, performance by Guinness World Record holding fire juggler, Cascading Carlos, and more. The “Festival Passport” encouraged festival goers to visit 21 local businesses and the event very effectively showcased Sussex County as a year round destination. The unique nature of the event, the fact that the event drew visitors from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region during the slowest time of the year, and the enthusiasm with which it was embraced by the Bethany Beach business community, many of whom sponsored the event and chose to remain open in late January for festival goers bodes well for the expansion of year-round tourism in Sussex County.
Ladybug Music Festival: The first Sussex County Ladybug Music Festival – “the largest celebration of women in music on the east coast” – was held on a September Saturday throughout downtown Milford, and attracted between 2,500 and 3,000 visitors of diverse ages (20’s to late 70’s), ethnicities, musical tastes, and from numerous states. Along with music, the event included artisan vendors, a variety of food trucks, beer gardens, and more. The musical entertainment ranged from performances by solo musicians taking place in intimate settings at small businesses throughout town to mainstage performances by larger bands. Music genres including jazz, blues, folk, hip hop, and indie pop were represented. Along with extensive regional and social promotion, the festival was featured nationally in Billboard magazine.
Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival: This festival has become a staple event at the Delaware beaches, drawing locals and visitors from across the country as well as attracting international vendors. Total attendance in 2018 was nearly 70 sea glass and coastal art vendors and 4000 people over two days. It is a nearly unique event with only a dozen or so other sea glass-focused festivals occurring in the U.S, and it is arguably one of the largest of those, if not the largest. The festival, held at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry (CMLF) terminal and driving passenger traffic, food and beverage sales, and travel package purchases for CMLF, also drives tourist traffic into downtown Lewes for shopping, eating, sightseeing, and exploring Lewes’s rich historical treasures.
Freeman Stage: The Freeman Stage is the largest arts/cultural organization in Sussex County and 3rd largest in the state of Delaware. Through eleven seasons, more than a half of million patrons and guests have enjoyed an arts performance ranging from the Mid-Atlantic Orchestra to O.A.R. In 2018, The Freeman Stage welcomed over 58,000 patrons to 67 performances featuring 28 national recording artists. Nearly half of all ticket buyers traveled from outside a 50 mile radius of the venue; in fact, ticket buyers came from 36 of the 50 states and contributed, in total, an estimated $3M to the local economy in 2018. The Freeman Stage team has established relationships throughout the business community to serve its patrons and performers, including accommodations, transportation, and food and beverage businesses. Additionally, in a season, Clear Space Theatre, Delaware Opera and several arts organizations throughout the state perform at The Stage promoting the arts in Sussex County and tourism throughout the state.
Tourism Partner of the Year:
Delaware State Parks: Delaware State Parks, Sussex County: Cape Henlopen State Park & Fort Miles Historical Area, Delaware Seashore State Park (Indian River Marina & Indian River Life Saving Station), Holts Landing State Park, Fenwick Island State Park & Trap Pond State Park. With over 3 million visitors and more than $290M in economic impact in FY 2019, Delaware State Parks’ contributions to the Southern Delaware tourism industry can’t be overstated. Southern Delaware state park officials work closely with Southern Delaware Tourism, serving on the Outdoor and History committees, facilitating the development of a shared online event calendar, providing photos, graphics, and information to assist SDT with social media promotion, participating in writers’ familiarization trips, and more. They host family-friendly events throughout the year in Southern Delaware State Parks, many in collaboration with Southern Delaware Tourism and/or local chambers of commerce including Boo-B-Que BBQ Festival, Winter WonderFEST and others, and work closely with Southern Delaware Tourism partners to provide visitors with experiences they may not otherwise expect to find inside a state park.
Past recipients of the Southern Delaware Tourism Award include Winter WonderFEST, the Dogfish Dash, Lefty’s Alley & Eats, The Delaware Beach Book, Cape Henlopen State Park’s Gordons Pond Trail & Junction and Breakwater Trail, Return Day, First Annual Boo-B-Q by the Sea, the Western Sussex Tourism Committee (sponsored by the Greater Seaford and Greater Laurel Chambers of Commerce), Apple Scrapple Festival, Dogfish Head Brewery Tours, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival, the Lewes Maritime History Trail, The Ocean to Bay Bike Tour, Nassau Valley Vineyards, The Freeman Stage at Bayside, Eating Rehoboth Walking Food Tours, and the Sea Witch Halloween & Fiddlers Festival.