Virginia’s tourism industry urgently needs help to recover from the blow it has suffered during the long months of the COVID pandemic. And because tourism is a vital part of the state’s economy, efforts to draw large numbers of people back to our beaches, historic sites and other destinations will also be an essential part of the state’s overall economic recovery.
That begins with the thoughtful use of $50 million from federal COVID relief funding by the Virginia Tourism Corp., the state agency whose job is to support and expand tourism and hospitality.
Gov. Ralph Northam proposed, and the General Assembly approved, that sending, which is a good first step. Now the corporation needs to move quickly and decisively to put that money to work bolstering tourism.
Estimates during the summer were that Virginia had lost at least $14.5 billion in tourist and travel revenues since the pandemic struck in the spring of 2021. With tourism a major part of the local economy, Hampton Roads has been hard hit, and nowhere more than in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.
The pandemic has put many people in the tourism industry out of work. Earlier this year, Rita McClenny, the president of Virginia Tourism Corp., told legislators that tourism and hospitality businesses employ about 10% of workers in the state, but had about 45% of jobs lost during the pandemic.
The corporation will direct $30 million of the funds to counties and independent cities across the state to be parceled out to 114 organizations that handle marketing for tourist destinations. The money will help the organizations rebuild their marketing programs and expand their efforts to attract visitors from new areas.
The corporation is also developing a Virginia Tourism Recovery Program to help counties and cities bounce back from the toll the pandemic has taken.
Now is the time to start the campaign to revive the tourism industry in earnest and spread the word about what Virginia destinations have to offer.
In most places, kids are back in school and fewer people are telecommuting to work. We are past the peak of this year’s tourist season. But people are starting to think ahead and plan for the coming holidays and future vacations. This is a great opportunity to spread the word about what Virginia destinations have to offer.
People are trying to get back to some sort of “normal.” Unfortunately, we are still dealing with a big unknown as the delta variant continues to take its toll.
That’s all the more reason the Tourism Recovery Program should work quickly to come up with creative ways to make the case for visiting Virginia’s wealth of beaches, outdoor recreation areas, historic sites, mountains and theme parks.
We can hope that as government officials work to increase vaccination rates, the pandemic will soon be under control for good. It’s crucial now — when people are weary of COVID’s limitations on their travel and activities — to get a strong message out about what the state has to offer.
The Virginia Tourism Corp. is in a good position to launch a strong effort. In addition to the federal funds it’s receiving, it ended the 2021 fiscal year with a larger surplus, $6.6 million as compared to $5.7 million in fiscal 2020. The savings came largely through reduced travel by its staff and less spending on travel shows, exhibitions and missions.
Those activities were curtailed because of COVID, but fortunately, the corporation should be able to invest heavily in fresh marketing and other initiatives to jump-start tourism in the coming months.
COVID has been a big drain on Virginia’s tourism industry. But if things go well, the pandemic is reined in and leaders here are resourceful, this also could be a great opportunity. It’s time to roll out and implement a creative Tourism Recovery Program that can help Virginia move forward into a bright, prosperous future.