Tourism revenue stays flat in county

Published 2:41 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023

Across the region, tourism spending is getting back to pre-pandemic numbers. That is, except in Lunenburg County. While surrounding counties are seeing their tourism dollars climb, Lunenburg stayed flat in 2022. 

That’s according to a new report from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The annual VTC economic impact of tourism data shows Prince Edward County led its neighbors with a 6.6% rise in tourism spending, while neighboring Charlotte County saw a 4.5% increase. Lunenburg County, meanwhile, showed no growth at all in the report.

To calculate spending, the state looked at what tourists spent on lodging, food and beverage, retail and transport.

VTC said Prince Edward had $56.4 million in tourist revenue in 2022, while Charlotte County garnered $7.4 million. Lunenburg generated $5.3 million from its tourism, according to the report.

Virginia’s statewide totals rose sharply for 2022 compared to the previous year, with spending hitting $30.3 billion last year, a 20.3% from 2021.

Lodging topped tourism revenue in Charlotte County at $2.3 million in 2022, similar to Lunenburg generating $2.2 million in the category. 

The VTC report showed Charlotte with food and beverage was next at $1.1 million, followed by transport at $1 million and retail at $500,000.

Lunenburg’s numbers had transport second at $1.5 million, followed by food and beverage at $1 million and retail at $400,000 during 2022.

Lunenburg County Administrator Tracy Gee said she and Taylor Newton, the county’s director of planning and economic development, have not yet had the opportunity to delve into the numbers in the VTC report on tourism’s economic impact on communities. Gee said they have not formally discussed the data from the VTC report yet. 

In the meantime, Newton is completing due diligence on the information in the report. 

Gee added that she has “not taken a deep dive into the data for our area versus surrounding localities and those of similar size.” So she was not able to respond to why tourism revenue in Lunenburg did not increase in 2022. 

Gee also noted the county’s VTC representative recently took another job and the position has not been filled, leaving them without a person in the department that releases the numbers. 

She also doubts the VTC numbers will not reflect some of the progress the county has made. 

“We have events in Lunenburg where the data for out-of-county visitors is not likely to be captured,” she explained. “Statistics reflect measurable data, and some of our events are not included in state reports, such as the truck and tractor pull fundraiser, event venue attendance and town festivals.” 

Gee said they plan to dig deeper into the data for future discussions on what it means to Lunenburg County. 

LOOKING NEARBY 

Meanwhile, Charlotte County Assistant County Administrator Monica Elder said local events and attractions, businesses, infrastructure, visitors’ experiences in the community and marketing all play a role in visitor spending. 

“Charlotte County’s 4.5% increase is likely attributable to a combination of these factors rather than a specific action,” she said. 

Both counties are part of the regional tourism organization, Virginia’s Crossroads. 

While Elder said Charlotte County did not have a specific strategy going into 2022 to bring more visitors there, she said they worked with Virginia’s Crossroads to market attractions and events throughout the South-Central Virginia region. 

“We’ve continued to actively participate in their marketing campaigns and also use the county’s website and social media page to market local events and attractions,” Elder said Monday. 

In Charlotte County, Elder said they expect the county to post an increase in lodging associated with visitors who are working temporarily there and increases in spending on food and beverage when the report for the current year is issued. 

“In 2023 the county has focused more on community events while continuing to market locally and participate in regional marketing initiatives,” Elder said. 

Charlotte’s biggest attraction for visitors is Red Hill, the Patrick Henry National Memorial. 

She noted it draws visitors for the educational and cultural events held throughout the year, along with the annual July 4 celebration. 

“As we approach the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, we anticipate a significant increase in Red Hill’s visitation as well,” Elder said. The county expects to work with Patrick Henry’s Red Hill on the Virginia 250 celebration. 

Additional local attractions that she said draws visitors to the county include Charlotte State Forest, Staunton River Battlefield State Park, The Wilson-Kautz Civil War Trail, The Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail, outdoor recreational opportunities and other historic sites. 

In the year ahead, Elder said the county is looking at enhancements to its website related to events and local business. 

“At the regional level, Virginia’s Crossroads is working on plans to increase their digital presence and on-line marketing efforts,” she said. 

Elder noted that Charlotte County cannot be expected to show increases similar to the state with its 20.3% rise in tourism spending in 2022. 

Based on the number of events, attractions, and businesses in the county, she said, “we are not going to experience the level of increase seen in localities that are major tourist destinations.” 

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY 

Marketing efforts and a bounce-back after COVID-19 provided Prince Edward County stronger growth in tourism revenue than nearby Charlotte and Lunenburg counties. 

In a Monday interview, Prince Edward officials see two factors providing the boost in tourism revenue. 

“Coming out of COVID is probably the number one indicator of the change and the increase,” Prince Edward Director of Economic Development and Tourism Chelsey White said. Additionally, she pointed to the return of events in the county, such as Heart of Virginia Festival and the wine festival, in 2022. 

“All of those big events they came back last year,” she noted. 

Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley agreed, noting there were also new amenities that opened and brought visitors to the community last year. 

“We do have some things like the Sandy River Distillery that opened in that year,” he said.

Additionally, football and basketball at colleges in the county had more people attending them last year. “We are heavily influenced by what happens with Longwood and Hampton-Sydney,” Stanley said.

White noted the Moton Museum also reopened in 2022. 

Food and beverage accounted for the largest chunk of tourism spending in Prince Edward totaling $21.5 million last year. Lodging was second with $16.9 million, followed by transport at $8.8 million and retail with $4.5 million, according to the VTC report. 

Prince Edward officials said they are always looking for ways to support and increase tourism in the community. 

White pointed to the recent establishment of the Prince Edward Tourism Council is one of the ways they hope to bring more tourists and revenue from their visits. Made up of a broad spectrum of different organizations that support tourism, she said it includes representation from colleges and universities, hotel partners, Sandy River Retreat and Distillery, state parks, museums and more. 

“They provide input to the county on different tourism initiatives that we are doing within the economic development and tourism department,” she said. 

The county also is always looking for grant opportunities to support its efforts and works closely with the Virginia Tourism Corporation. 

A recent successful program marketed Prince Edward County as a location for wellness. 

“A Wonderful Weekend, Wellness, Working Remotely and Working Out” targeted those living within an hour or so drive and those doing remote work, White explained. 

Nicknamed “Be Well In PEC,” she said it was developed from looking at trends as things eased during COVID-19 pandemic. 

“People were looking for opportunities to get in shape, or stay in shape or be concerned about mental health and wellness,” White said. The campaign featured Farmville’s High Bridge and all of the county’s outdoor recreation opportunities “as the ultimate getaway if you just want to come for a weekend or for a couple of days during the week. Bring your laptop with you and get on the trails, go to our restaurants, stay at our hotels.” 

In addition to getting grant funds for ads to market it, they gave away about 500 mini-gift bags with branded items that represent Prince Edward County, coupons for local businesses, and itinerary of things to do during a stay. 

With this one wrapped up, White said they are now working on a campaign to market the county as a wedding destination. 

“We’re looking outside of the box to think of ways that we can be marketing ourselves,” she explained, noting that a lot of brides who marry there have connections with Longwood University and Hampton-Sydney College.