‘We’re back,’ Mayor declares as Alexandria tourism rebounds

With Alexandria’s consumption tax revenues hitting an all-time high in fiscal year 2023, Mayor Justin Wilson says that the city has emerged from the economic spiral created by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s consumption tax revenues (sales, meals and transient lodging) peaked at $81 million in fiscal year 2023, a 7% increase over the $76 million collected in FY 2022 and 23% more than the $66 million in FY 2019, according to figures presented at Visit Alexandria‘s annual meeting on Tuesday night.

“We’re back,” Wilson told an audience of hundreds at the Westin Alexandria Old Town. “And now it’s not about planning and recovery, it’s not about figuring out what’s next, it’s not about adapting. It’s about putting the pedal to the metal. This is an exciting moment for our community. And we have an opportunity to seize this incredible opportunity for the city in the future.”

Alexandria was also listed in Travel and Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2023 and Best Cities in the U.S. 2023, and was voted third in Condé Nast Traveler’s list of best small cities in the country.

Handing out flags at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town, March 3, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Visit Alexandria CEO Patricia Washington said that her success is largely the result of a series of video advertising campaigns, like the “Best Kept Shh!” campaign, where the city is advertised as a best-kept secret. The campaign garnered a reported 60 million impressions, and contributed to a record 186 million total digital marketing impressions in FY 2023, according to Visit Alexandria.

“Our marketing strategy meets people where they are, whether they’re watching a YouTube video on their computer, a streaming app on their TV, or social media on their phone,” Washington said. “We’ve worked hard to gain national recognition and a national reputation and this is the moment to capitalize on it with a new spot that ties together all the accolades with the ‘Best Kept Shh’ campaign.”

Hotel occupancy rose 18% in Fy 2023, according to Visit Alexandria. That resulted in record revenue per available room of $111, a 4% increase from the previous record of $107 set in 2019.

Visit Alexandria is the city’s tourism bureau, and earlier this year City Council approved $2 million for marketing, advertising, printing and web expenses. The allocation, a 4% increase of $149,800, was directed to be spent at Visit Alexandria’s discretion. A majority of the funding, $1.7 million of it, is budgeted directly toward advertising, with $162,000 for website support and $127,000 for printing costs.

Washington said to expect new video campaigns highlighting Alexandria’s neighborhoods, Black heritage and more. She also said that travel inflation and fears of recession will mean that consumers will want to get the most value from their money in the coming year.

“At a time when so much of our life is lived in the digital world, we need to remember that authentic travel is a refuge that provides meaning, magic and connections,” Washington said.

Wilson said Visit Alexandria’s success allows the city to support critical services and protect an attractive quality of life.

“We’re in a joint venture,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure that joint venture is even more successful in the future.”