ROANOKE, Va. – Empty hotel beds, dining rooms and downtowns were all effects of the pandemic that could be seen firsthand.
Now for the first time, the aftermath can be qualified in facts and figures.
“2020 was a devastating year for the tourism industry,” said Eric Terry, the president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association.
The Virginia Tourism Corporation just released its 2020 Tourism Economic Impact data.
Overnight visitation dropped 33% from 2019, down to 29.3 million visitors. Visitor spending fell to $17.5 billion in 2020, a 39.7% decrease. Travelers spent nearly $48 million per day in Virginia in 2020, down from $80 million the year before.
“To see the 2020 numbers, really, it’s just mind-blowing,” said Catherine Fox with Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Fox knew the industry would be hard-hit.
“The tourism industry, no different than any other, however, it really saw probably that initial impact sooner and it’s lasted a little longer,” said Fox.
Terry said the impacts stretch beyond the tourism industry alone.
The Commonwealth lost $682 million in direct state and local tax revenues, a 32% decline from 2019. And Virginia lost nearly 70,000 travel-supported jobs.
“Folks aren’t necessarily coming back to the industry the way that we’d like them to,” said Terry. “I think that’s going to be one of the things that’s going to hold our growth back.”
Fox said 2021 is looking better.
“We’re seeing ups and downs. A weekend like this weekend, for example, with Notre Dame coming in, the number of weddings, fall foliage upon us, we’re starting to see those peaks and valleys,” said Fox.
Although some things are picking back up, recovery will be slow.
“The industry still needs help. The industry’s not out of the woods yet,” said Terry. “I don’t think folks should breathe a sigh of relief that the industry’s back on its feet because it’s not.”