Signs aim to boost tourism

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Prince Edward County is already putting in the work that is expected to help bring travelers back to Virginia after the COVID-19 pandemic is sufficiently eliminated to allow for a return to normalcy in the realm of tourism.

Magi Van Eps, tourism coordinator for Prince Edward County, said during a presentation to the county’s Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Oct. 13, that the county had received a $10,000 grant award from the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC).

“One part of the plan for the recent $10,000 grant award from VTC is developing a new LOVEWorks, which will be installed on Camp Paradise Road at High Bridge Trail State Park,” she said in an email Monday, Oct. 19.

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A LOVEwork is typically a large, creative sign spelling out the word “LOVE.”

The VTC website noted that the LOVEworks program is a state-wide branding initiative designed to promote travel in Virginia and to strengthen awareness of the “Virginia is for Lovers” message.

The site also stated that the LOVEworks have become special places, not only for local communities but also for travelers. People are drawn to the LOVE letters and often choose them as backdrops for special occasions such as engagements, family photos, memorable road trips and more.

Van Eps spoke to why High Bridge Trail State Park was an ideal location for a LOVEwork.

“The park sees, on average, 200,000 visitors a year, and this new LOVEwork will help to encourage these visitors to come into Farmville where our merchants ‘can take a walk in their wallets’ while they are here,” she said.

During the Oct. 13 meeting, Van Eps mentioned how High Bridge has actually received a record amount of visitors in 2020 as people take the opportunity to get outside, so the value of the location for the new LOVEwork is obvious even now.

A Thursday, Oct. 15, press release from the VTC highlighted how crucial tourism both is and will be to the state’s economy.

The release stated that the VTC announced recently that Virginia’s tourism industry generated $27 billion in visitor spending in 2019, a 3.4% increase over 2018. In 2019, tourism in the commonwealth supported 237,000 jobs for Virginia communities — a 0.9% increase from 2018. The tourism industry also generated $1.8 billion in state and local revenue, an increase of 3.9% compared to 2018. Virginia ranks eighth in the nation for domestic travel spending.

“Travel and tourism play an indispensable role in our economy, and 2019 year was another impressive growth year for Virginia,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in the release.

“While we celebrate this record-breaking success, we must also acknowledge the immediate and damaging impacts of the pandemic on tourism, which will be reflected in the numbers next year. We know that a revived tourism industry will be crucial to our overall economic recovery and we remain committed to helping it bounce back and emerge from this crisis even stronger.”

In 2019, travelers spent $73 million a day in Virginia, the release continued. The travel industry in the commonwealth has continued to grow 10 years in a row, with a compound annual growth rate of 3.9% since 2010. However, these figures do not account for the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the tourism industry.

“The Virginia is for Lovers brand is highly recognizable and will be vitally important to bringing back travelers who have retreated due to the health crisis,” VTC President and CEO Rita McClenny said in the release. “I truly believe that it is travel that will help us move forward again as a commonwealth and as a country when this pandemic has passed.

“But we must give this industry the tools they need to survive now in order to come out on the other side,” she added. “Virginia Tourism and the power of the Virginia is for Lovers brand can help do that. And we must.”

The release detailed how VTC has implemented a three-phased approach to recovery messaging and marketing and has served as a hub of information for travelers and citizens as the pandemic evolves.

In Phase III, VTC unveiled a new campaign, WanderLove, highlighting road trips, hidden gems, outdoor recreation and other safe vacation experiences, the release stated. During this time, Northam also awarded more than $866,000 in grant funds to 90 destination marketing organizations through VTC’s WanderLove Recovery Grant Program first announced in June.

The press release also included a brief forecast for fall 2020 and the future beyond that.

“While the coronavirus has had a significant impact on Virginia’s tourism economy, the industry remains hopeful for a robust return to 2019 numbers in the future,” VTC officials said in the release. “Tourism economics forecasts that Virginia will approach normalcy in the second half of 2021, with full recovery in 2024.”

In response to continued uncertainty, VTC plans to continue its WanderLove campaign for the foreseeable future, encouraging Virginians and drive-market travelers to explore the state and discover why Virginia is for Lovers, the release stated.