Source: 2016 Economic Impact of Domestic Travel on Virginia and Localities, Virginia Tourism Corporation.
It’s been a pretty good year for tourism in Alexandria. A 2016 Economic Impact study by the Virginia Tourism Corporation showed that visitor spending in Alexandria has reached a record high of $790 million, contributing $26.6 million in tax receipts. So the mood at Visit Alexandria’s annual meeting on Sept. 25 in the Patent and Trademark Office was one of celebration and optimism, though twinged with a note of caution about threats facing the city.
Visit Alexandria, a 501c organization, works to promote tourism in the city. This involves advertising, research, social media outreach, and other ways of building a brand for Alexandria. The organization is funded primarily through a city allocation of $3.2 million, though $397,219 is raised through earned income. Of the organization’s expenses, 89 percent ($3.2 million) is spent on marketing and programs while 11 percent ($373,951) is spent on general expenses and administration.
But the specter of the recently killed business improvement district (BID) haunted the meeting, with notable tension between City Council members and business leaders who had supported the BID. Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, said that the city is going to have to find a way to deal with looming competition from the internet and other upcoming waterfront destinations in the area. The big threat discussed in City Hall and businesses across the city is The Wharf, a $2 billion investment by Washington D.C. into waterfront properties in the southeast quarter of the city.
“The threats that led to talk of the BID are still out there: the internet and The Wharf in D.C.” said Washington. “We need to move forward with new strategies.”
Washington said part of this will involve using more web content to help draw people to Alexandria. Among the highlights of Visit Alexandria’s annual meeting was new VR technology showcasing 20 different local attractions. In the reception after the meeting, Visit Alexandria offered guests a chance to utilize the VR headsets to tour locations through Old Town.
Washington also said a push for Visit Alexandria in the coming year will be sending the organization’s executive team to more community events and into local businesses more frequently.
“We get a sense that our members in the tourism industry understand what we do,” said Washington, “but we need to do more to make sure residents [and business owners] know what we do and how important tourism is to the city.”