With wineries, breweries, historic sites and scenic vistas pulling in visitors from across the state and the country, tourism is paying its way in Central Virginia through spending at local businesses, local tax revenues and business payrolls.
Figures collected by the U.S. Travel Association show that tourists spent more than $1.126 billion in the region in 2018 and helped pay $223 million in income for employees in tourism-related jobs.
Those figures represent increases of 3.5% and 2.7% over 2017, respectively.
Last year, visitors also poured an estimated $34.5 million into local tax coffers across Central Virginia, about a 1% increase over 2017, the figures show.
Albemarle County led the region in tourism-related tax income, at $13.2 million. Charlottesville pulled in $8.7 million in local tax revenue.
Nelson County was third for tax income based on tourism, at $6 million.
The three jurisdictions also led with the amount of money tourists spent in 2018, with Albemarle seeing $390.7 million added to its economy, Charlottesville $263.2 million and Nelson $211 million.
Charlottesville’s total was a 4.5% increase over 2017, while Albemarle saw a 3.5% increase. Nelson’s 1.8% year-to-year increase was the lowest rise in expenditures in the region.
Louisa County led the area with the largest percentage increase in tourism dollars spent, with a 5.9% hike over the previous year.
“Albemarle County and Charlottesville continue to see growth in the tourism industry thanks to the private investment from our business community and the public investment in promoting the region to visitors through the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau,” Courtney Cacatian, executive director of the bureau, said in a news release.
“Tourism is an increasing piece of the economic engine in the city,” said Chris Engel, Charlottesville’s director of economic development. “Last year, there were 380 new hotel rooms that came on line, which is an amazing amount. That allows for more and different choices on those big weekends when people are coming into the area.”
Engel said the additional lodging, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses increase the number of jobs available in the city.
“Tourism jobs are a good place for a lot of people to start and get into a career,” he said. “We need additional opportunities for people in terms of entering the workforce and having a way to move up on a career path or to gain experience.”
There were about 10,300 tourism-supported jobs in the region in 2018, according to the report. Albemarle led with 3,391 jobs, while Charlottesville was second with 2,597 jobs and Nelson was third, at 1,744.
In 2014, the first year included in the study, there were about 9,500 jobs in tourism-supported businesses in the region.
The study’s payroll and employment estimates represent impact generated in the private sector and exclude government supported payroll and employment.
The report cited Virginia’s increasing agricultural tourism and alcohol tourism — craft breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries — for the growth, along with music and wedding venues and convention destinations.
“Economic and tourism development require a long view,” Larry Saunders, chairman of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, said in a prepared statement.
“Our tourism efforts are aligned with the experiential traveler. For example, the Brew Ridge Trail is Virginia’s original beer trail. The Virginia Craft Brewers Guild and the Virginia Cider Association started in Nelson County. We just launched the Nelson 29 Craft Beverage Trail .... The work and the incremental success continue.”
According to the report, tourism in Virginia generated $25.8 billion in travel spending in 2018, up slightly from 2017’s $25.75 billion.
All jurisdictions in the state saw an uptick in tourism-related income, the study showed.
“Virginia’s tourism industry had a banner year in 2018, hitting new records and making important impacts on our communities across the commonwealth,” said Rita McClenny, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, in a prepared statement.
The figures are based on U.S. residents traveling in Virginia, both state residents and out-of-state visitors. To be considered tourists, visitors had to travel away from home overnight in paid accommodations, be on any overnight trip or take day trips to places 50 miles or more away from home.
“There is no commonly accepted definition of travel in use at this time,” the report states. “Some define tourism as all travel away from home while others use the dictionary definition that limits tourism to personal or pleasure travel.”
The data are collected from federal, state and local governments and private organizations at the ZIP code level. Consumer survey data are not used in locality impact estimates due to small sample size issues, the report states.
“The data are based on national travel surveys conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Survey of Consumer Expenditures, Smith Travel Research’s Hotel and Motel Survey” and other sources, the report states.
“Average cost data are purchased and collected from different organizations and government agencies,” the report states. “Total sales and revenue and other data collected from state, local and federal government and other organizations are employed to compare, adjust and update [the data].”
Information on travel in the U.S. by people from other countries is compiled and reported separately.