Tourism pays big dividends for city

Tourism pays big dividends for city
Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association welcome center in Old Town. (File Photo)

By Melissa Quinn

Visitors opened their wallets to the tune of $771 million in Alexandria during 2011, top city tourism officials said during their annual summit last week.

Out-of-towners’ largess – up 8.1 percent from 2010 – also raised $23.1 million for city coffers. Officials with the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association released the new figures, compiled in conjunction with the Virginia Tourism Corp. and U.S. Travel Association, September 27.

But while the money generated for city tax revenue increased from year to year, Alexandria fell in the rankings among Virginia’s most popular tourist destinations. The city ranked among the top five municipalities with the most spending generated from tourism in 2010, according to a study by the Virginia Tourism Corporation and U.S. Travel.

Though the city collected more tourist dollars than previous years, it fell to sixth in 2011, behind Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Henrico counties. But ACVA officials don’t see nearby municipalities as a threat to Alexandria’s allure to tourists.

“Alexandria is a lot smaller than Arlington and Fairfax in terms of population, the number of hotels and the geographic area covered,” said Merrie Morris, director of public affairs. “I do not think we would position ourselves as competing with them.”

Along with bolstering the city’s bank account, visitor spending kept more than 6,000 people employed in Alexandria, officials said.

That figure does not account for seasonal employment, said Elizabeth McLaughlin, the agency’s vice president of research

Locally, ACVA officials launched several initiatives aimed at roping in even more tourists, like a revamped tourism website or September’s inaugural Fashion’s Night Out event. Mayor Bill Euille touted another change – new banners on King Street – as one of the organization’s most successful projects in recent years.

City council, Euille included, increased ACVA’s fiscal 2013 budget by $100,000 in response to the association’s continued success. The money, Morris said, is earmarked for holiday and spring advertising.

“There’s no doubt we have a lot of unique qualities and have a unique charm where no one in Northern Virginia can compete with us,” she said.

Despite falling behind surrounding municipalities dollars generated by tourism last year, Alexandria dramatically outpaced both Virginia and Northern Virginia during the past five years, boasting a 22 percent increase in visitor spending since 2006. By contrast, traveler spending increased 9 percent during the same period in the state and region.

“A visitor just wants a complete experience,” Morris said. “People from Arlington even say ‘We wish we had an Old Town’ and people are going to come to Alexandria because of this.”