City tourism market stable despite economy

City tourism market stable despite economy
Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association welcome center in Old Town. (File Photo)

Alexandrias tourism experts didnt buy into consumer thriftiness during the Great Recession and now they say their tenacity paid off.

Officials with Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association unveiled the results of their three-year marketing campaign inside the George Washington Masonic Memorial Thursday evening. The numbers were slightly lower than 2009, but experts consider that a victory given the national tourism market.

ACVA lured visitors with an advertising campaign that reached roughly 1.4 million households, prompting 88,000 trips to Alexandria, generating an estimated $40 million in spending, according to a report by Strategic Marketing and Research, Inc. of Indianapolis.

Tourists spent about $616 million in Alexandria throughout 2009, generating $21.5 million in tax revenue, ACVA officials said. The tourism industry was responsible about 6,000 Alexandria jobs, according to the report.

In tough times sometimes it seems as if advertising doesnt work, said Denise Miller of SMARI. If you stopped tomorrow, you would still get tourists. But how many more would you get with advertising?

According to SMARI, 9.9 percent of Alexandrias target market residents of New Jersey, Richmond, Norfolk, Raleigh, N.C., and Pennsylvania saw at least some portion of the citys advertising campaign.

The good news is this is going to go on and continue into the future, Miller said. If you dont have a good message, youre not doing a good job.

But it wasnt all good news. Only a third of the citys visitors in 2010 arrived with Alexandria as their sole destination, Miller said. While the city attracts couples and solo travelers, it struggles to draw in young families, she said.

Still, Alexandria is fairing better than other travel destinations. The recession and negative media coverage of major corporations some in the travel industry have taken their toll on tourism, said Suzanne Cook, 2011 ACVA chair and a consultant for U.S. Travel Association, a Washington-based trade group.

Hotel demand is growing, as are hotel rates. Good signs, Cook said, but not enough to overcome the 2009s economic crisis-triggered drop. 

While the Great Recession may be declared over, the consumer doesnt believe it, she said. Things will improve, but its going to be slow and tentative and we may see some setbacks along the way.

Alexandria is performing better than the country, state and its neighboring counties, Cook said.  

City Councilman Paul Smedberg, the mayors representative to ACVAs Board of Governors, pointed to the opening of National Harbor, the creation of the water taxi and the King Street Trolley as other positive influences on the citys tourism numbers. Alexandria saw a $2 million spike in tourist-generated tax revenue the year National Harbor opened, he said.

It has been a hard year for our city and our organizations, Smedberg said. Spending money to attract visitors is an investment.

Using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the city will buy five hybrid trolleys, he said.

Parking, a contentious issue as of late, came up as well. Businesses claim higher costs are deterring visitors from shopping and leaving their registers quarter-less. With the city ending the fiscal year about $3 million in the black, some of the extra money will pay for new, credit card capable, multi-space parking meters. Smedberg said the devices have been ordered and are en route.

Soon youll see them along King Street, he said, to lively applause.