EDA Talks Tourism’s Impact On County

From left, Laura Messer of the Virginia Tourism Corporation poses with Essex County Economic Development Authority Chair Lisa Andrews.

From left, Laura Messer of the Virginia Tourism Corporation poses with Essex County Economic Development Authority Chair Lisa Andrews.

The Essex County Economic Development Authority (EDA) gained some insight into the impact tourism has on the community during its January 4 meeting.

The EDA heard from Laura Messer, destination development manager for the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC). Messer has been in her current role for two years after spending most of her career with James City County.

Messer works for the partnership marketing arm of VTC which includes a grants team, destination development and business/ industry developments.

She noted that the division’s goal is to help Virginia communities maxi- mize their tourism potential.

“That means different things in different communities,” Messer said. “We strive to do this through three, key resources that contribute to the livelihoods of the communities we serve.”

Those are:

1). Strategic Tourism Planning;

2). Tourism Business Development;

3). Cooperative Partnership Marketing Opportunities.

Messer noted that she works closely with communities on the Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck, and the Eastern Shore.

“My position is the boots on the ground so to speak,” she remarked. “I connect with local communities and businesses to make sure folks are connected with the resources we have available.”

Statewide, tourism accounted for 42.2 million overnight visitors in 2022, the most recent year data is available. That year there was $30.3 billion in visitor spending across Virginia with travelers spending $83 million per day in Virginia, up from $69 million in 2021.

This activity yielded $2.2 billion in state and local tax revenues (up 19.1 percent), while Virginia’s visitor economy activity added $23.8 billion to the state’s total GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Specifically addressing Essex County (including figures for the Town of Tappahannock), Messer noted that 256 jobs in 2022 were tourism related.

Expenditures were $35.7 million which ranked second among Middle Peninsula counties, trailing only Gloucester County.

Other 2022 local statistics include $7.1 million in labor income, $1.1 million in local tax receipts, and $832,282 in state tax receipts.

Messer noted that all but one category exceeded figures for 2019 which was the last pre-pandemic year for travel across Virginia. The one category that experienced a dip was employment which was at 260 in 2019.

Moreover, Messer reported that sector expenditures for 2022 in Essex County were $12.2 million for retail, $9.2 million for lodging, $7.2 million for food & beverage; $5 million for transportation, and $2 million for recreation.

“The retail number is very high because Tappahannock is the economic engine here,” Messer said. “When you look at lodging, food & beverage, and recreation there is a lot of room for growth.”

The 2022 visitor profile for Essex revealed that 49.7 percent of visitors spent at least one night in a destination, while 50.3 percent of visitors took day trips.

The most popular months for visitors was May-September. The top three places from which individuals visited were Richmond, Washington/Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads.

“In rural communities like Essex, tourism is critical because it is part of the quality of life,” Messer remarked. “Tourism is the backbone of the quality of life. If there are things that visitors enjoy doing, then the residents also enjoy those things.”

Former Essex County Commissioner of the Revenue Thomas Blackwell, who attended the session, noted that in Virginia tourism ranks second to agriculture in economic development.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that isn’t the same in Essex,” he said.

Regarding resources VTC offers, one is Virginia.org which is a portal for Virginia businesses to utilize.

Messer noted that the site is used by more than 13 million visitors per year, all with an expressed interest in Virginia travel. She said any business is eligible for a listing on the website.

“It’s free and super easy,” she remarked. “It is a really good marketing opportunity.”

Also, VTC Research assists with a wide range of tourism related data analysis and gathering, including the economic impact of tourism on the state and localities, visitor profiles, market share, consumer trends, and the VTC’s marketing and advertising campaigns.

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