The Business Plan: Make the most of tourist season

The Business Plan: Make the most of tourist season
Bill Reagan

By Bill Reagan (File photo)

The weather is warming and the National Cherry Blossom Festival has begun. Spring is finally upon us, and Alexandria soon will notice an upswing of visitors to our community.

Our colleagues at Visit Alexandria tell us that tourism generates millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses and city government and supports thousands of local jobs. Alexandria gets 3.3 million visitors per year, and they spend $738 million in our community. That generates $24 million in local tax revenue, which reduces the tax burden for each of our households by $300.

There’s definitely an economic return associated with crowds of visitors, but there’s so much more to consider. Alexandria’s vitality and cultural richness is sustained by tourist dollars, and our quality of life is enriched by the appealing places where we can shop, dine and explore.

Cities that are tourist destinations also tend to spur creative economies. Alexandria attracts highly desirable creative businesses, and the very charm and vitality that lures owners here also helps them recruit skilled workers. As we recover from sequestration’s downturn in government spending, Alexandria’s economy is becoming more diversified and less dependent on the government, and our hospitality industry has helped support this recovery.

Our assets also nudge us to be better citizens. We live in a highly desirable location — Extraordinary Alexandria, as described by Visit Alexandria — and we are compelled to be good stewards of our treasure. We don’t take our community’s extraordinary features for granted and have worked hard over the years to enhance and promote its history, culture, infrastructure, and quality of life. Without the stimulus of tourism, we might be more complacent.

Unfortunately, it is easy to find communities that contrast with Alexandria — where tourists once visited but now streets and stores are empty. Locals try many approaches to lure visitors with contrived festivals and quirky museums. We are fortunate to have an authentic atmosphere that draws visitors and we should embrace visitors and their support of our city.

What can we as individuals do to enhance this good fortune we are blessed with? The first step is to be welcoming in every way possible. Maybe you have traveled and sensed the locals looking at you warily or, contrastingly, giving you a welcoming nod. How did you feel when someone noticed you looking at a map and stepped up to ask if they could help? This goodwill and ambassadorship goes a long way to promoting Alexandria as a tourist-friendly city.

Visit Alexandria is developing training on the city’s attractions for businesses that serve tourists, as visitors often turn to salesclerks or waiters to ask questions. When an employee shows enthusiasm and directs visitors not to miss certain attractions or restaurants, that’s not just friendly service: it’s branding that results in visitors staying longer, spending more, and heartily recommending Alexandria to others.

Spring has sprung, and it’s a great time to get out and enjoy our community — and let our enthusiasm become contagious to visitors.

The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.