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Visit Alexandria details pandemic’s tourism hit — and their comeback plans

In a normal year, tourism brings in about $50 million in annual consumption taxes to the City of Alexandria, which uses the money to fund local services such as public safety, transportation, human services and education.

This year, the city was on track. Then, the coronavirus pandemic entered the picture.

“During the short period of February to July, we have lost $12 million in consumption-based taxes that have not been collected during this time,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, speaking at the Visit Alexandria 2020 virtual annual meeting.

Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, said this year was on track to see high, possibly record-breaking, hotel occupancy levels. In the first eight months of the fiscal year, rates were tracking above the previous year.

“With the onset of the coronavirus, the bottom dropped out,” Washington said at the meeting. “Occupancy dropped to as low as 10% in April, which is historically the strongest month — typically in the mid-80s.”

CLICK TO EXPAND: The pandemic did a number on hotel occupancy in Alexandria, as Visit Alexandria’s Patricia Washington shows during a virtual meeting. (Screenshot WTOP/Michelle Murillo)

She admitted it could have been worse, if the city and businesses hadn’t acted quickly to secure any tourism or hospitality dollars they could.

“As the city and state relaxed various business regulations, you adapted your offers to those new opportunities like cocktails to-go, farmers market to-go. Then it was ALX at Home — virtual experiences and new content,” Washington said.

She added that one silver lining in the pandemic response was the establishment of a “streatery” in the 100 block of King Street, turning the street into outdoor dining space so restaurants were able to serve more customers.

“It was a hit from the start and has become a new hub of energy on King Street,” said Washington, adding that the idea grew from there. “Thanks to parklets, patios, parking lot expansions, we’ve had new al fresco dining spaces throughout neighborhoods of Alexandria.”

Moving forward, she said, they are looking at traveler research and adjusting their marketing to fit the data.

Data from Destination Analysts shows that health concerns still remain high for most prospective travelers, and though many want to travel, they want to do so in a way they feel secure.

“As consumers do return to travel, they are starting with the familiar,” Washington said. “Seventy percent expect to return to a previously visited destination. Over half say their trips will be regional, which Destination Analysts defines as those within comfortable driving distance.”

So, Visit Alexandria is shifting their marketing focus to people within three hours of the city, to include Virginia, Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The research also showed that prospective travelers see some factors as less risky when it comes to contracting the coronavirus. They are most comfortable with road trips, outdoor recreation, shopping and hotels.

So the city is promoting a number of city walking tours on topics from art to architecture to Black history. They are also planning to debut the Courageous Journey Black History Self-Guided Driving Tour.

Here are other areas where Washington said the city will focus marketing:

Washington said many local favorites will also be back this fall and winter, such as a renewal of the successful Restaurant Week, held earlier this year, as well as a virtual holiday program.

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