Tourism revenue spike: Prince Edward sees region’s highest growth

Published 3:15 am Monday, November 6, 2023

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

Prince Edward and Charlotte counties’ revenue rose in 2022 over 2021, a report from the Virginia Tourism Corporation said, while Lunenburg County’s remained flat over the same period.

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. Nearby Lunenburg County’s showed no growth in the report.

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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% increase from 2021.

Factors for tourism revenue growth

In a Monday interview, Prince Edward County 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 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 Sidney,” Stanley said.

White noted the Moton Museum also reopened in 2022.

Where is money being spent? 

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 as 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.

Becoming a wedding destination 

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 Sidney College.

Her office is looking at developing a package to offer that includes the county’s event venues, food and catering, photographers, bridal store and other vendors.

“I’m excited about that,” Stanley said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for us next year.”

The Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce also recently approved holding a new wedding expo next year, he said.

“I look at that as a kind of take-off on our efforts,” Stanley said. “Hopefully we can build on each other. The county can promote us to outside the region and then they can piggy-back that by inviting people to come in and meet our vendors at that vendor fair.”

Prince Edward is the only county in the state to have three state parks wholly or partly in the county, he said, adding it also has Sandy River Outdoor Adventures, Three Roads Brewery, Sandy River Distillery, lots of venue space and Salem Chapel.

“There’s lot of activities,” he said, which provides those in wedding parties plenty to do. “You can get out on the river. There are things for folks to do.”

With his daughter’s recent marriage, Stanley said the county has “one of the best bridal shops” in Karen’s on Main Street where his daughter purchased her gown.

“There are a lot of ways we can get the community behind this marketing effort,” he said, generating broad support.

To help visitors when they arrive, White said the county also has secured a grant to update its way-finding signage to ensure it’s attractive and appealing.

Looking ahead, she said the county is working with VTC on the Virginia 250 celebration set for 2026, which celebrates the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.

“We will be participating as much as we can,” White explained, noting it’s in the planning phase and they’re awaiting work on several proposals they’ve submitted to help fund the program.

She said to stay tuned and see what develops as they develop and tweak plans for the celebration.

With the state seeing tourist spending up by 20.3%, no county in the region was able to mirror this jump.

Stanley said inflation could be part of the reason.

“My guess is they’re looking at dollars spent and not necessarily nights,” he said. “I don’t know if you have done much travel the last year or two but the price of everything has gone up significantly.”

Stanley said costs are up much more than any cost of living pay adjustments people receive. 

“If you’re looking at aggregate spending, I would bet some of the growth particularly in the Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach and Tidewater areas, the cost has gone up pretty significantly, he said. “I would bet that has had an impact on why dollars are up.”