Tour de Force: Tourism Spending Rises in Albemarle

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Angie Glidden welcomes visitors to Crozet’s Albemarle Tourism & Adventure Center, housed in the old Crozet train depot. Photo: Lisa Martin.

U.S. domestic travelers are making Charlottesville and Albemarle county their destination in ever greater numbers, according to a recent Virginia Tourism Authority study. “Every single jurisdiction in Virginia saw an increase in tax revenue from tourism in the 2017-18 time frame,” said Courtney Cacatian, executive director of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau (CACVB). 

State-wide, the tourism industry saw a 4.4 percent increase in visitor spending, a 1 percent increase in tourism-related jobs, and a 2.9 percent increase in state and local tax revenue. The tourism industry is the fifth largest employer in Virginia.

While counties like Arlington and Fairfax top the list of tourism spending in Virginia, Albemarle comes in at a respectable 14th in the state with $390 million in tourist expenditures in 2018, a 1.5 percent increase over the prior year. Charlottesville held the 19th spot at $263 million. The Shenandoah Valley region, which encompasses eight counties to the west of Albemarle and two in West Virginia, saw a 5 percent jump in visitor spending, hauling in $1.5 billion in 2018.

Though a precise breakdown of Crozet tourism numbers is unavailable, local tourism officials sense a steady rise in interest in the area. “We have seen an increase in people stopping in,” said Angie Glidden of the Albemarle Tourism & Adventure Center in Crozet. “People may be visiting family or in town for a wedding, and they’ve perhaps already seen some things near Charlottesville like Monticello, and they want to get away from all that. They come out here to enjoy nature, find a hike or a leisurely drive, visit a winery and hear some music, and they relax.”

“The CACVB is planning a couple of visitor research surveys in conjunction with the Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond to highlight tourism issues, challenges, and trends in our area,” said Cacatian. “We’ll survey 400 visitors who have been here in the last two years from regions within driving distance, and another group of 400 who have never been here before. We’d like to figure out why people come, what draws them here, hurdles they face in coming, and what else they’re doing once they arrive.”

Cacatian says the surveys will specifically focus on the last two years of travel, post August of 2017, to gauge the impact on local tourism of the Unite the Right rally tragedy in Charlottesville. To parse the data for Crozet-relevant information, the surveys will include specific questions about tourist interest in attractions such as polo, orchards, wineries, and hiking, and will also try to determine factors that inhibit access, such as the lack of a nearby hotel.

“Most people we see here already have a place to stay in Charlottesville,” said Glidden, “but I think there will be a hotel in Crozet at some point, maybe a boutique hotel in the new Downtown Square. We have a few places like Montfair and the Inn at Sugar Hollow, but those are often fully booked.” 

The CACVB hopes to have its survey questions set by December and plans to send the surveys out in early January in time to receive responses in February of 2020. “There’s really a need in the industry for this data and to get some clarity as to how the events of August 2017 continue to impact us or not,” said Cacatian. “We’re also partnering with Monticello to get feedback specific to them, so the information should be useful to all of our partners and to the public.” 

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