Five winners from among a nominee list of events, attractions, organizations, and individuals have been chosen by an impartial panel to receive the 2023 Southern Delaware Tourism Awards. The awards were presented on December 13th at the Annual Southern Delaware Tourism Awards Luncheon held at The Lighthouse Cove Event Center in Dewey Beach, DE.
Tourism is a $2.7+ billion (and growing!) industry in Sussex County. In fact, nearly 24,000 jobs in Sussex County 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 evolving 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 2023 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 five categories in 2023 including Best New Event, Best Event, Best Attraction, Philanthropic Award, and Tourism Legacy Award. The 2023 Southern Delaware Tourism Awards winners are:
Best New Event Category: Winner: Rehoboth Beach Main Street’s Margarita Crawl. In response to requests for more events to attract visitors to Downtown Rehoboth Beach in the off season, Rehoboth Beach Main Street (RBMS) collaborated with Dano’s Tequila and created a new event for 2023; The Margarita Crawl. This year’s inaugural event was held on Saturday, June 3 and featured fifteen participating restaurants, welcoming 600 ticket purchasers to sample 2-ounce portions of Margaritas and vote for their favorites in each of three categories: Best Margarita, Most Creative Margarita, or Best Mocktail. Participants in the Crawl enjoyed complimentary appetizers at many of the restaurants while they pondered their choices.
Attendees have fun visiting restaurants and making new acquaintances or meeting up with old friends while waiting in line or walking to the next venue according to comments included on the ballots. Almost half the tickets were purchased by out-of-state visitors who love spending a beautiful spring afternoon exploring the many shops in our downtown area and then enjoying dinner at one of our restaurants. Rehoboth Beach Main Street looks forward to the Margarita Crawl “growing in attendance and attracting even more visitors to Rehoboth Beach to discover what a treasure it is and to return for longer stays as we strive to provide year-round experiences for visitors. In addition to attracting visitors and nearby residents to our downtown, the Margarita Crawl will join the Community Unity Dinner and Gumbo Crawl as a fundraiser for RBMS so we can continue our efforts to make Rehoboth Beach a year-round destination.”
Best Event Category: Winner: Milton Chamber of Commerce & Friends of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Horseshoe Crab & Shorebird Festival. The Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival’s inaugural event was held in 2000 and has continued to celebrate and raise awareness of the Delaware Bay’s unique spectacle of horseshoe crab spawning and migrating shorebirds for over two decades. The first festival of its kind, it takes place at the height of the horseshoe crab spawning season, always the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and continues to attract visitors and media from all over the country and the world. The festival also boosts important educational and conservation efforts informing attendees about the local ecosystem through activities and educational programs. Additionally, the festival welcomes local artisans to showcase and sell art representing natural assets in the region. Last year, over 50 Delmarva artisans participated.
The festival takes place in historic downtown Milton, in town open spaces and Milton Memorial Park, located at the mouth of the Broadkill River. This serves as the perfect backdrop where visitors can hop into a kayak and explore the natural assets of the region.
Because of the significant increase in marketing and promotion in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2022, last year’s attendance grew significantly from the previous annual average of 1,500 attendees to well over 7,000 local attendees and visitors representing 15 states. Thanks to the increased visitation to Milton by festival-goers, restaurants and local businesses are extremely busy. Food trucks are also invited to operate during the festival. A tourism survey was conducted during the event which demonstrated that The Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival is a true tourism and economic driver. We anticipate this event to continue growing and to continue attracting nature tourism enthusiasts to Southern Delaware.
Educational, conservation, and environmental partner participants in the festival including Friend of Primehook National Wildlife Refuge, Horseshoe Crab Recovery Coalition, Delaware Audubon Society, Delaware Wild Lands, DuPont Nature Center, A Tree for Every Delawarean, American Fisheries Society at the University of Delaware – Student Subunit Chapter, and Quest Kayak. These groups, businesses, and organizations provide information, activities, and resources related to horseshoe crabs, shorebirds, and our local ecosystem.
The Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival is extremely significant in Delaware, the US, and internationally for several reasons. The festival highlights the significance of horseshoe crab spawning, and shorebird migration to the region. Our region of the Delaware Bay is a critical stopover point for migratory shorebirds, such as red knots, sandpipers, and plovers during their long journey from South America to the Artic. These birds rely on the horseshoe crab eggs as a vital food source during their stopovers, helping them refuel for their continued migration. Horseshoe crabs are considered a keystone species, and their presence and reproductive success contribute to the overall health and of the Delaware Bay ecosystem. They help recycle nutrients and provide food for other species. They are monitored by scientist and researchers. The horseshoe crab fishery, focusing on harvesting the crabs for their rare blue blood (used for testing and medical purposes) has economic significance to our region. The Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Festival offers opportunities for education and conservation efforts for those who live here and those who visit. This festival successfully educates and brings a higher standard of recognition so visitors can have a better understanding and respect for this remarkable crab.
Best Attraction Category: Winner: Jolly Trolley. The World’s Original Jolly Trolley originated in 1970 as the first tour transportation service in Rehoboth & Dewey Beach. In 1992, the Hastings family purchased, developed, and have privately operated Transit U Inc. & the Jolly Trolley, building it into the safe and reliable service it is today in the Nation’s Summer Capital.
The Jolly Trolley serves both visitors and locals, carrying passengers from around the globe on the summer time Jolly Trolley fixed route loop from Rehoboth Beach to Dewey Beach that offers an iconic experience as much as it does transportation. In addition, they run year-round service in fleet vehicles to all major airport, train, and cruise terminals, bringing in tourists from transportation hubs from New York to Baltimore.
They operate private charters, weddings, and private/public school transit as well. The company participates in high volume tourist events like Sea Witch as well as Christmas Parades, supports the LGBTQ community with participation in the annual Pie Ladies Event, provides various event transportation for Camp Rehoboth and Sussex Pride, and has recently expanded to local attraction tours both in and outside of the area.
Philanthropic Award Category: Winner: Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce. Through multiple events and an enormous amount of work from its staff, the Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce has not only enhanced tourism to Sussex County, but has been able to raise almost $85,000 for local non-profit organizations. They work tirelessly on these huge events to be able to donate funds back to so many organizations that are in need.
In fact, local organizations that received the funds include: Santa’s Letters, Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, Clayton Theatre, Lord Baltimore Parent Teacher Organization, Millville Fire Company, Beebe Healthcare’s South Coastal Emergency Department and Cancer Center, Selbyville Public Library, Selbyville Volunteer Fire Department, Delaware Hospice, Sussex County Guards, Indian River School District Art programs and many more.
As an illustration, the Bethany Boardwalk Arts Festival, held in September, was attended by over 8,000 people from 11 states and resulted in a total of $7,600 in charitable contributions, a big win for tourism as well as for deserving local organizations.
Tourism Legacy Award: Winner: Marie Mayor. When Marie Mayor and Sharon Harris purchased their lavender farm more than 20 years ago, they successfully created a destination that would welcome visitors for decades. A farm in southern Delaware that grows lavender and makes handcrafted soap, lotion, and other bath and beauty specialties, Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor also specialized in blending teas and developing culinary lavender and herb products for sale in the cottage store.
As an owner of Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor LLC, Marie has also been an active and involved member of the tourism community. She served as President of the Milton Historical Society Board of Trustees, served on both the Milton Theatre and Milton Chamber of Commerce boards, and is past Chair of Southern Delaware Tourism (2012 – 2014.) Some years ago, she restarted the Delaware Agritourism Association cooperatively with the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Governor’s Office for Tourism and then served as its president for three years.
She is a supporter of locally-owned small businesses and nonprofit organizations such as the Milton Garden Club, Milton Chamber of Commerce, Historic Lewes Farmers Market, Rehoboth Beach Farmers Market and the Bethany Beach Farmers Market, all organizations that contribute to making Southern Delaware such a beloved destination among visitors.
Sadly, Sharon is no longer with us, and Marie has very recently sold the farm, but her legacy and her contributions to tourism in Southern Delaware – particularly agritourism – will live on indefinitely.
Past recipients of the annual award include Schellville, 302 Day, Delaware Botanic Gardens, Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, Josh Grapski/La Vida Hospitality, 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.
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