Tourism in Alexandria isn’t what it used to be. With local economies devastated by the pandemic, First Lady of Virginia Pamela Northam visited Alexandria on Wednesday (July 22) to promote safe tourism and congratulate the city on winning a $10,000 grant for its Great Walks program.
“In 2018, Virginia tourists spent more than $26 billion here, and this put 235,000 people to work and contributed $1.8 billion in local and state tax revenue,” Northam told a small audience in the Torpedo Factory Art Center. “This year, however, our tourism and hospitality industries have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Northam was joined by State Senator Adam Ebbin, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Councilwoman Del Pepper, Rita McClenny of the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Patricia Washington of Visit Alexandria. None of the speakers said they would be taking vacations this summer, but instead would be making small outings and being careful not to contract the virus.
“When you’re ordering out, think about local and how you can support our local stores and restaurants, because they may not be here if we don’t support them,” Northam said.
The officials also praised Visit Alexandria’s ALX Promise program, which they said was important for consumer confidence. More than 300 local businesses have participated in the accreditation system that ensures compliance with health regulations.
Chapman thanked city residents for stepping up to help local businesses and donating time and effort to the city’s nonprofits.
“They are generously donating time and money to our nonprofits, and they are looking out for each other by being smart about masks and social distancing,” Chapman said. “We have 271 years of meeting challenges and overcoming them, and COVID-19 is just the latest and we will overcome this, too.”
McClenny said that promoting safety and tourism is a delicate balancing act.
“We know a revived tourism economy can help spur new economic activity and critical funds back into our Virginia communities,” she said. “Here, we also know that we must proceed responsibly and encourage travel in a safe measured manner.”
Washington said that tourism is essential for the city’s economy.
“Visitors contribute $50 million in hotel, restaurant and retail taxes to our city to help fund for city services,” Washington said. “The tourism sector accounts for 7% of the workforce and it supports our large community of small businesses. Right now this sector is threatened by coronavirus, so I cannot emphasize enough our gratitude to our state and local leaders for recognizing that it is absolutely critical to stand by these businesses so that Virginia’s hospitality sector comes back strong.”
Staff photos by James Cullum