A decade-long streak of tourism revenue and job growth in Virginia’s Blue Ridge will be snapped this year due to the impact of COVID-19, but 2019 saw a record 920 million dollars in direct travel expenditures. That represented a 3 percent increase over 2018 says Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge president Landon Howard. The local tourism industry also accounted for almost 8200 jobs last year says Howard. One good sign – the Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge website traffic is almost back to normal – Howard says with the Fall colors leaf-peeping season and other outdoor amenities many people are ready to come back.
(news release) ROANOKE, VA (September 28, 2020) – Before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism in Virginia’s Blue Ridge (VBR) topped a record $920 million in direct travel expenditures during 2019, an increase of 3% over the previous year (U.S. Travel Association). Tourism also generated 8,177 jobs in the VBR region and $66 million in state and local taxes. The increase was largely attributed to the opening of new hotels and restaurants, an increase in sports tournaments, growth of meetings and conferences, enhanced transportation options, unique outdoor recreation options like Explore Park, festivals and events, the diversity of arts and culture, top cuisine and craft beverages and so much more. Virginia’s Blue Ridge continues to thrive as a metro mountain vacation destination.
With support from over 1,500 industry partners and the investment provided by the Cities of Roanoke and Salem and the Counties of Roanoke, Franklin, and Botetourt, Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge achieved the 10th consecutive year of RECORD growth. “Regional collaboration has been the key to our success. Tourism is BIG business and notably an economic driver for our region,” said Landon Howard, President of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. While anticipating another record year for 2020, the Virginia’s Blue Ridge hospitality and tourism industry was among the many industries that were severely impacted by the pandemic, suffering one of the worst turndowns in history this past spring. Shortly after the introduction of Governor Northam’s Forward Virginia: Phase Three recovery stage in early-July, Virginia’s Blue Ridge started to experience positive growth. To date, hotels have sustained nearly 60% of normal revenues during July, August, and September.
A large part of the recovery seen by the region is attributed to over 20 sports tournaments that have been or will be hosted from July through October 2020. Visit VBR has launched a Reopening Plan that invites visitors to safely travel for fall and holiday vacations in the Virginia’s Blue Ridge region. Outdoor attractions such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Carvins Cove and the Appalachian Trail offer a plethora of safe and naturally socially distant outdoor activities for all seasons. As a result of the Cares Act Funding provided by the Cities of Roanoke and Salem as well as the Counties of Botetourt, Franklin and Roanoke, over $282,200 has been added to a half-million-dollar plan to invite visitors from North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C. While visiting the mountains in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, visitors are inspired to immerse themselves into metro mountain experiences and endless outdoor adventures.
“We want to create a Reopening Plan that will safely and sustainably bring our region’s travel and tourism industry as close as possible to a full recovery,” explained Landon Howard, President of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “It is essential to bring back business in order to generate the much needed jobs that were lost due to the pandemic,” added Howard.
Visit VBR is working with local businesses including restaurants, hotels and attractions to adopt a series of new safety measures and protocols in accordance with guidelines set forth by the CDC and public health officials. The Virginia’s Blue Ridge Stay Safe Pledge is a commitment for the local community and future visitors to acknowledge and adopt so everyone can continue to enjoy what makes the region a safe and special place to visit. To date, the VBR Stay Safe Pledge has been signed by nearly 200 businesses; these businesses have been provided a poster of the pledge to place in their storefronts as a sign of their commitment.
In addition to the Pledge, Visit VBR has unveiled a new Open for Business video showing the community’s collective efforts to socially distance, enforce mask use and adjust normal services for the safety and comfort of guests.
Virginia’s Blue Ridge is currently operating under Phase Three of Forward Virginia. To learn more about the operation of businesses, what’s open in Phase Three, and more information about the response to COVID-19 in VBR visit: VisitVBR.com/covid19.