Tourism-related spending rose by 4.4% in Virginia last year, increasing from $24.7 billion in 2017 to $25.8 billion in 2018, according to an economic impact report released Tuesday by the Virginia Tourism Corp.
The tourism industry continues to be a major player in the state, directly supporting 234,500 jobs and making up 7.4% of total private industry employment. Employees in tourism-related jobs in the commonwealth earned $6.1 billion in 2018, up 3.6% from 2017, according to the report, which was compiled by the United States Travel Association and commissioned by Virginia Tourism.
“Virginia’s tourism industry had a banner year in 2018, hitting new records and making important impacts on our communities across the commonwealth,” Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corp., said in a prepared statement. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Virginia is for Lovers and the tourism industry’s continued growth this year, we also celebrate the people who impact and influence our communities with their vision, passion and love for the tourism industry. Our industry is made up of creative, hard-working and dedicated professionals, and they work every day to make our communities more vibrant and dynamic. They help to make Virginia the best place to live, work and visit, and are our most powerful ambassadors for Virginia is for Lovers.”
The top five Virginia localities visited last year were the same as 2017: Arlington County, with $3.4 billion in domestic travel spending; Fairfax County, $3.3 billion; Loudoun County, $1.8 billion; Virginia Beach, $1.6 billion; and Henrico County, $963.5 million. Across the state, 45 of Virginia’s 133 counties and independent cities received more than $100 million in domestic travel dollars in 2018, and Virginia ranked eighth in the nation in domestic travel spending.
Aside from job creation, increased tourism spending also brought $1.78 billion in state tax revenue.
In the Richmond metro area, tourism spending was also up last year, rising by 5% to $2.6 billion. Visitors also generated more than $170 million in state and local taxes in the Richmond region, which includes the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan, the town of Ashland and city of Richmond.
The collective occupancy tax for hotels in Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Richmond surpassed the $30 million mark for the first time during fiscal year 2019, which ended in July, Richmond Region Tourism announced last month. The number rose nearly 50% over the past six years and reflects a year-over-year jump of 2.06%.
Henrico County, which tops the region in tourism dollars, with Richmond coming in second at $800 million, has 8,674 hotel rooms, making up nearly half of the region’s 17,707 rooms, according to Richmond Region Tourism. Richmond, by contrast, has only 3,671 guestrooms.
Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism, says that much of the region’s tourism is driven by sporting events, although business travel and visiting family and friends are important components as well. In 2018, the region’s highest hotel occupancy night occurred during NASCAR race weekend at Richmond International Raceway, Berry says.
“In the top 10 highest-occupied days of the year, 8 of the 10 involve some kind of sporting events,” he says, adding that he expects the same for 2019, with lacrosse, field hockey and soccer tournaments, along with NASCAR, to produce plenty of tourism traffic.
According to Yuri R. Milligan, a spokesperson for American Evolution, the 400th anniversary of historical events that happened in Virginia in 1619 had an estimated total economic impact of $95 million for events and exhibitions from 2016 through June 30. A comprehensive study of the commemoration’s economic impact will be completed in 2020, Milligan says.