Long road to recovery: Prince William’s tourism industry begins to return | Community Guides
Few industries have looked alike since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and tourism is no different.
Massive closings and stay-at-home orders have had massive impacts on the tourism industry, and while some aspects are improving, there is still a long way to go.
The biggest draws in Prince William County typically include Manassas Battlefield National Park, Jiffy Lube Live, and the waterfront along the Potomac and Occoquan rivers.
Prince William County Acting Director of Tourism Dan Cook said travel and security restrictions have had an “insurmountable” impact on the entire tourism and hospitality industry.
At the height of the closures in April 2020, occupancy rates for the county’s more than 4,700 hotel rooms were at an “all-time low” of 33.9%. Occupancy rates have recovered, but are still not at pre-pandemic levels.
Revenues from retail, restaurants and attractions were virtually non-existent, except for take-out deliveries and donations to local businesses.
Economic recessions are not new, but Cook said they usually occur in cycles and spill over into different industries.
“COVID was anything but a trickle, it was a tsunami that swept away tourism jobs, visitor spending, working capital and much more overnight,” he said. “There was no game plan, manual or guide that could have prepared the industry for something of this magnitude to happen so quickly.”
According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the Virginia hotel industry is expected to experience a loss of $ 1.5 billion this year, mainly due to reduced business and government travel. Nationally, business travel revenue declined by $ 49 billion in 2020 and is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Leisure travel is approaching pre-pandemic levels, but issues persist with corporate meetings, conventions, business travel, group travel and social events, all of which account for a large portion of the costs. hotel revenues.
The county has provided grants to small businesses throughout the pandemic and plans to move forward. County staff recommend using $ 16 million for economic stimulus initiatives and $ 10 million to support community organizations from its allocation of federal stimulus funds through the US bailout, approved by the Congress earlier this year.
The economic initiatives would cover a host of proposed programs aimed at covering operating costs, supporting startups and vocational training. The county is also considering grants to hotel and tourism businesses for rent relief, working capital and operating costs.
The county created the #PrinceWilliamStrong business engagement program to connect the county government with businesses and initiatives to keep the community safe throughout the pandemic. Companies that have pledged to follow state and federal health guidelines have received free personal protective equipment, “We are open for business” signs, digital resources and signs to promote distancing measures social.
More than 200 companies and organizations participated in its end at the beginning of 2021.
The Passport for Prince William also offers free offers from businesses in the area to visitors and residents. It’s an online platform at pwcdeals.com, and over 130 companies and 1,900 customers have signed up. Offers range from hotel packages to craft brewery tastings.
In the fall of 2020, the county used an advertising campaign to boost its tourism industry by showcasing its 38 square miles of open space.
Cook said many companies were creative in adapting to the pandemic. Some hotels have created private offices in vacant rooms to allow people to take a break from their home office. Murlarkey Distilled Spirits created outdoor tasting options, and breweries and wineries had drive-thru options. Restaurants provided food to those in need, and retailers offered local deliveries.
Local restaurants have also benefited from the expansion of outdoor dining options.
“If our residents weren’t mobilized, a lot of our businesses may have closed – and I’m so grateful for their support in keeping our industry alive,” Cook said.
Cook said investing in outdoor options, especially sports, will be important going forward. He highlighted the US national BMX competition held in the county in August.
“These types of investments are a great tourism opportunity for the future and with the foresight of our leagues, elected leaders and community investments – I am very excited about our future in sports tourism,” he said. .
Cook sees “the era of the great road trip” as a lasting impact of the pandemic. He said the county is geographically located to enjoy travel due to its location along Highways 66 and 95.
“Air travel continues to be difficult and frustrating,” he said. “And with our location midway between Maine and Florida, we have millions within a day’s drive to capture domestic and Canadian visitors on their road trips.”