Tourism in the Lynchburg region appears to be recovering from the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Lynchberg has not yet received his official tourism data for 2021, Anna Bentson, assistant director of the Office of Economic Development and Tourism, was able to talk about how Hill City is doing last year.
“Obviously, the pandemic has hit the hospitality and tourism sectors particularly hard,” she said. “2020 has seen a huge decline in all sectors, including retail, accommodation, restaurants and entertainment. Most recovered in 2021, but entertainment continued to lag behind until 2022 and recently jumped. Everyone understood how to serve and work differently, and that changed the industry radically. “
She said there is definitely a lingering demand to go back and enjoy the aspects of tourism and hospitality. In fact, the OEDT is set to authorize more than 50 special events in Lynchburg in 2022, from road races to music festivals, with an impact of more than $ 2 million.
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The OEDT office receives weekly reports on accommodation from Virginia Tourism Corporation and Smith Travel Research, and May’s initial exercises at Liberty University, which were expected to be attended by more than 60,000 people, had a major impact on the local economy.
“We saw the second highest occupancy rate in the accommodation sector in the entire community with full restaurants and high attendance attractions,” Bentson said.
Official data from the city says tourism jobs included 3,245 local jobs in 2020 and 3,825 jobs in 2019. Lynchburg’s tourism industry brought in $ 18.9 million in state and local revenue in 2020 and saved per household about $ 668 local taxes in the state collection. .
Sales in tourism led to more than 100 possible sales, producing about 41,000 requested overnight stays in hotel rooms with an expected impact of over $ 19.4 million in 2020 – an increase of $ 14.6 million in 2019.
Mary Massie, director of programs and education at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, said the site, like most other cultural entities, was hit hard by COVID in 2020.
It was closed to the public for several months at the start of the pandemic, but managed to turn around and devise a way to open it safely by early June of that year.
“Our pre-pandemic visit was about 24,000 visitors a year and dropped to just over 7,000 in 2020,” she said. “We were excited to see in 2021 that our number of visits was increasing the way we did.”
Although visits are lower than the year before the pandemic, last year they returned to almost 20,000 and Massi expects to reach this mark or hopefully surpass it this year.
“We have noticed in particular that our public events, especially our outdoor events, such as the Fourth of July celebration and our annual wine festival, continue to be well attended after COVID and we hope this trend will continue,” she said.
Michelin Hall, program director at the Academic Arts Center, said the academy has seen an increase in people returning for a variety of reasons, and the organization is set to have more visitors than in 2019.
“We are definitely coming back and we are better than ever!” She said.
In 2019, the Academy had 82,457 visitors, but in 2020 this number dropped to 42,585 visitors. In 2021, there were 38,968 visitors. For all events with tickets in 2022 until May 20, he has sold a total of nearly 15,000 tickets, and his total number of visitors – a figure that also includes the impact of classes, camps and events without tickets – is 26,705 as of May 20 this year. .
Mary Ellen LaFrenier, co-owner of Abide Stays, a short-term rental management company, said her business was doing well during the pandemic because so many people were fleeing larger cities to stay safe in medium-sized cities such as Lynchburg and did not want to stay in hotels.
“They wanted to come and stay somewhere where they could be in a backyard or accessible green space,” she said.
She thought her new business – set up in late 2018 – would fall apart, but she had booked all her rents and they remained full throughout the pandemic.
“In the beginning, people just ran away from the cities and just chose to come to Lynchburg because they wanted a place to explore new trails, go to parks and have food to eat at home, but then we actually had at least five people left. with us and eventually moved to Lynchburg, “she said. “They wanted to check out this place and eventually bought houses.”
Many of these people come from areas like Washington, D.C. and wanted to stay in an area not too far away, she said.
“We’ve heard a lot of people say they can drive here without stopping from DC, where they’re afraid to get into gas stations and stuff. So it was a short enough trip, “she said. “The fact that there were no other people around during COVID, when everyone was afraid of other people who might infect them with the virus, I think everyone felt cleaner and safer.
She found that many guests were surprised to see how much Lynchburg had to offer during COVID.
LaFreniere rented from Lynchburg, Bedford, Danville and Wintergreen and saw a jump in visitors last year after vaccines were released and the virus was less of a threat.
“More people gathered for events and traveled with friends, unlike family-only travelers,” she said. “We started seeing a lot more bachelor and bachelorette parties and things like that, where there were groups again. I will say that we are now seeing a decline with inflation and gas prices and there are fewer people trying to travel or just have an disposable income. They can stay in their own city one night and have fun. ”