Centuries-old event wins ‘Best Event’ tourism awardx

Coastal Point • Susan Lyons: Organizers of the popular Return Day event accept their award from Southern Delaware Tourism for ‘Best Event.’Coastal Point • Susan Lyons: Organizers of the popular Return Day event accept their award from Southern Delaware Tourism for ‘Best Event.’Who would have thought a political event from the 1700s would still be making such a big impact on tourism?

But every two years, Return Day brings thousands of people to Georgetown to watch political rivals literally “bury the hatchet.”

It’s perhaps the last event of its kind in the United States, and it won the 2016 “Best Event” award at the Southern Delaware Tourism luncheon on Dec. 12.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is no stranger to the event. He said Delaware political candidates can look forward to the parade as soon as they win their primaries.

“You know you’ll be riding in a carriage with your opponent and your family and your opponent’s family,” Carper said. “I think it has a real tempering effect for the candidates.”

“[Return Day] has the unique ability to bring together rivals,” said award presenter Ben Gray.

This November, while checking in guests, Microtel general manager Gray was stunned that “People were coming from all over the country” for Return Day.

He presented the award while describing Return Day’s many events, including parade, ox roast in an open-pit barbecue, announcement of election results and more.

“Sometimes I think our nation could use a Return Day,” said Carper, prompting some applause.

The luncheon celebrated other greatness in tourism, which is a top economic driver in Sussex County, generating $1.7 billion in direct tourism sales annually and supporting 18,000 jobs.

Other awards presented included:

• Best Tourism Attraction: Gordons Pond Trail and the Junction & Breakwater Trail, both part of Cape Henlopen State Park.

• Best New Event: Boo-B-Q by the Sea, a barbecue competition and festival only two years old and hosted on Halloween weekend at the Indian River Inlet.

• Tourism Partner of the Year: Western Sussex Tourism Committee, which combined the powers of Seaford and Laurel Chambers of Commerce to attract travel writers who they hoped would fall in love with southwestern Delaware.

“Sussex County is in the heart of Delmarva. … Every day, word’s getting out on what’s going on here,” said Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism. “Thank you, everyone here, for making this such a special place.”

Other special guests shared new attractions that are making Sussex County an even more exciting place to visit or reside, from world-class wineries to “bird nerds” willing to spend money on birding weekends.

“We’re all ambassadors of a good time,” said Devon Perry, special guest and executive director for Visit South Jersey tourism.

Details of the awards are online at www.VisitSouthernDelaware.com.