Annual tourism numbers background for plan at ACVA

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There are 144 million adults on-line in this country, and of that number, 88 million will make their travel plans via the Internet.

Revamping the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association website to cater to this market is a major focus for the coming year, and a project that Stephanie Brown, the new president and chief executive officer at ACVA has taken on. We will add a sales component, said Brown, at their annual meeting, Thursday, Sept. 27. This is our highest priority, she added. Over the past year, the ACVA website was visited 17 percent more than in FY2006.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Suzanne Cook, agreed. Thats where we ought to be, she said. Cook is an expert in the travel industry, concentrating much of her research in travel trends. She recently joined the board at ACVA, and directs a program that create reports for the Travel Industry Association. Her research shows that the travel industry is seeing a rise in trips related to niche markets, like destination weddings, pet travel and culinary travel. However, the focus on historical trips show a reduction in popularity, she said. Cooks slideshow, titled Trends Shaping Americas Travel Industry, showed that the U.S. industry has recovered from the slowdown following 9/11, and consumers were still cautious, but international travel is starting to rebound, she said. But the hotel sector has really been where the actions been, she said. In Alexandria, more than $180 million is being invested in remodeling and upgrading hotels and the new Westin Alexandria and Hotel Monaco will open soon in the city.

Mixed bag
As a whole though, the city of Alexandria is seeing mixed economic performance numbers in the tourism industry for fiscal year 2007. Hotel occupancy is down three percent, but hotel revenue generated per room was up by one percent to $84.78 from last year. In addition, food revenue increased by four percent as well. Although fuel prices seem to have an economic impact across the board, the consumers have reacted positively, said Cook. Theyre pretty much taking them in stride, she said.

ACVA looked at a report by Dr. Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, entitled The Visitor Market in Alexandria: Present and Prospective, for some indications. The report showed that while the region as a whole depends on the hospitality sector by 2.1 percent, this importance is raised to four percent in Alexandria.

Expansion in the hospitality sector can strengthen the citys other core sectors to generate jobs and income within the citys retail and personal services businesses, the report stated.

Furthermore, the Fullers report included recommendations that Alexandria strengthen retail, restaurants and visitor services by upgrading the waterfront area, developing underperforming sectors and creating new tourism products.

Mayor William Euilles response further cemented the citys emphasis on tourism when he said, Tourism is one of the citys most important industrys, noting that tourism helps communitys preserve their quality of life. With much of the travel influenced by Reagan National Airport, just two miles up the GW Parkway from the city, Euille noted that airport security needs to focus on being more tourist-friendly to attract international tourists. Its all about collaboration and teamwork, he said.

As the National Harbor continues to emerge across the river, the National Harbor Collaborative Task Force is working on several initiatives to entice business from their visitors. Several areas they are focused on include expanding visitor services, targeting marketing material and educating stakeholders on a unified message about Alexandria.

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