Area businesses, event honored with tourism awards

Date Published: 
Dec. 15, 2017

Coastal Point •Kerin Magill: Michelle Freeman, CEO of Carl M. Freeman Companies, spoke at the Southern Delaware Tourism’s 2017 Tourism Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, Dec. 6Coastal Point •Kerin Magill: Michelle Freeman, CEO of Carl M. Freeman Companies, spoke at the Southern Delaware Tourism’s 2017 Tourism Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, Dec. 6“An algorithm can’t give you a smile.”

With those words, Carl M. Freeman Companies CEO Michelle Freeman summed up what separates southern Delaware businesses from online sellers.

Freeman was speaking at Southern Delaware Tourism’s 2017 Tourism Awards Luncheon, held on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at the Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center in Rehoboth Beach. The event honored four groups for excellence in service to tourism in the area.

“Sussex County,” Freeman said, “has a warmth that’s different and unique all unto itself,” and she urged the business owners in attendance to embrace that and to use it to promote their businesses.

Freeman said that, while small businesses in southern Delaware may not have access to one-hour deliveries and other online perks, “the way we compete is by the traditional ways of retail, the traditional ways of tourism — friendliness, smiles…”

She emphasized that the key to success in tourism is “this collaborative, creative piece of getting people through your door and then keeping them as customers.”

“How you compete with Amazon is you tell them what you have for sale and why it’s different and unique and important to come shop on Main Street,” Freeman said.

Freeman recalled her days as a real estate sales agent and talking to people who were visiting the Delaware beaches.

“They would always describe this feeling of coming over the Bay Bridge or coming down Route 1 and what it meant to them as human beings,” she said. “What our customers talk about are feelings,” rather than concrete details, she said.

She suggested that what business owners need to accomplish is “to try to keep what’s special about Sussex County, and continue to grow as a county, and be smart about our growth,” as well as to offer “not good, but great customer service, so when they book their vacation, or they buy a house from us, or they come into our restaurant and they have dinner, they say, ‘That was the best I’ve ever had.”

Freeman acknowledged the work of Southern Delaware Tourism Executive Director Scott Thomas, who advocates for the beach area at the state level.

“We need people in this county to stand up for us,” she said.

The 2017 honorees were:

• Best Attraction — Lefty’s Alley and Eats, Lewes. Lefty’s opened in December 2016 and offers an arcade, laser tag and 16 lanes of “luxury” bowling. In its first year of operation, Lefty’s hosted more than 140,000 visitors. With more than 80 full- and part-time employees, the business also partners with area organizations on fundraising efforts.

• Best Event — Dogfish Dash, Milton. The Dogfish Dash began in 2007 as a 5K/10K race with 200 runners, and is now an 8K (in keeping with Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats “off-centered” philosophy. This year, the Dogfish Dash raised more than $145,000 for the Delaware Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and welcomed more than 3,500 runners representing 22 states, as well as participants from as far away as Australia.

• Best New Event — Winter WonderFEST, Lewes. Now in its second year, Winter WonderFEST is produced by the non-profit Festival of Cheer Inc. The event, which has been expanded this year to include more activities, is located at Cape Henlopen State Park and in its first year featured more than 60 light displays along a 1.5-mile drive, a Christmas Village at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal grounds, a synthetic ice rink, amusement rides, live music, Santa’s Workshop and pictures with Santa. Winter WonderFEST welcomed more than 45,000 visitors over 30 evenings, with the help of more than 200 volunteers. The event raised more than $150,000 — more than $100,000 of which was donated to 12 Sussex County charities.

• Tourism Partner of the Year — Delaware Beach Book. Launched in 2011 by Becky and Marvin Carney, and Kevin Fleming, the Delaware Beach Book is a hardcover guide to the state’s beach resorts. The book is distributed to hotels and motels, weekly rental properties, condominiums and bed-and-breakfasts, as well as waiting rooms, new home owners and area events.