Region's Tourism Growth Continues
$11 million more than was spent in 2007.
By MAC McLEAN | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | September 21, 2009*** Published: Sept. 21, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
Tourists spent $311 million in Southwest Virginia in 2008, according to an economic impact statement released by state tourism officials.
That's $11 million more than they spent in 2007. It also marks the second year in a row the region's total tourism revenue has grown at a pace faster than the state average.
Virginia Tourism Corporation spokeswoman Tamara Talmadge-Anderson attributed this success to projects like The Crooked Road music heritage trail and the 'Round the Mountain Regional Artisan Trail, which market the region's culture and heritage on a global stage.
"These [attractions] have gone a long way to promote the region's status as a tourism destination," Talmadge-Anderson said. "There's been a lot of success, and there's even more to come."
Across the state, Virginia's tourism industry generated $19.2 billion in 2008, according to "The Economic Impact of Tourism Expenditures on Virginia," an annual study released Wednesday by the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
The study measures the amount of money spent by people who travel at least 50 miles from their homes to arrive at a particular destination for either business or pleasure trips. It showed the state's total tourism revenue increased 2.8 percent from its 2007 total of $18.7 billion.
"The 2008 figures show that the Virginia tourism industry continues to remain strong, even during a historic economic downturn," Gov. Tim Kaine said in a news release about the new tourism numbers.
Combined, tourism revenue from the 11 cities and counties that make up Virginia's western corner jumped 3.5 percent from 2007 to 2008. It went up another 6 percent from 2006 to 2007, a time when the state's total tourism revenue increased by 5.8 percent.
The state's total tourism industry was responsible for 210,620 jobs in 2008 and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenues, according to the report. The industry supported 3,850 jobs in Southwest Virginia and brought the 11-locality region $21 million in tax revenues.
The state's overall success, Kaine said, is due largely to its ability to promote "our history, natural beauty and culture to millions of visitors each year, who in turn provide a great benefit to Virginia's economy."
The Crooked Road
Kaine's pinning Virginia's tourism success on the state's ability to promote its history, culture and natural beauty came as no surprise to Jonathan Romeo, The Crooked Road's interim executive director.
After all, this strategy is something Romeo's organization has been working on since it started in January 2003.
"It's basically working with the culture and heritage of the region," Romeo said. "What we're doing is trying to promote tourism and economic development through traditional music."
He said The Crooked Road reaches this goal by linking music venues, festivals and other attractions as it cuts a 253-mile swath through 13 Southwest Virginia cities and counties.
A few attractions and events featured on The Crooked Road include Scott County's Carter Family Fold and Bristol's Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival, which by itself was expected to bring 30,000 visitors to the region over the three-day weekend.
The steps taken by the state and The Crooked Road's other partners and attractions to promote the region's musical heritage for tourists are really starting to pay off, Romeo said.
According to an economic impact statement released in January, The Crooked Road's visitors spent $12.9 million in 2008 and helped create 445 new jobs and generated more than $400,000 in wages and sales tax benefits.
'Round the Mountain
The 'Round the Mountain Regional Artisan Trail hopes to duplicate The Crooked Road's success by linking the region's artists with places where their work is displayed.
Since it started in May 2005, trail staff members have built a network of 325 people who make handmade pottery, woodwork or quilts – and 228 sites where their work can be purchased or viewed.
'Round the Mountain Executive Director Diana Blackburn said the group currently keeps this information on its Web site, http://www.roundthemountain.org.
"We're already starting to see an impact from that work," she said. "A lot of our members are telling us they have gotten a lot of visitors from the site."
The group also is developing a series of driving trail maps similar to what The Crooked Road offers, two of which will feature artists and venues in far Southwest Virginia.
The Clinch River Trail will link sites and artists in Russell and Tazewell counties while the Countryside Trail will link those in Bristol and Washington County. Blackburn said these two projects should be finished by the end of next year.