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Visit Alexandria Highlights Pandemic Impacts, 2022 Priorities

Patch logo Patch 10/15/2021 Emily Leayman
Visit Alexandria president and CEO Patricia Washington recaps the organization's pandemic response, the city's hospitality and tourism performance indicators, and priorities for 2022. © Chris Cruz/Visit Alexandria Visit Alexandria president and CEO Patricia Washington recaps the organization's pandemic response, the city's hospitality and tourism performance indicators, and priorities for 2022.

ALEXANDRIA, VA — The pandemic's impact on the hospitality and tourism industry and priorities in the next fiscal year were highlighted at Visit Alexandria's annual meeting on Thursday.

The meeting overviews performance on tax revenue and hotel occupancy as well as Visit Alexandria's own work to promote the city as a visitor destination. Data provided at the meeting showed that while revenues and hotel occupancy dropped at the helm of the COVID-19 pandemic, some improvements in the metrics show signs of recovery for Alexandria’s hotel, retail and restaurant sectors.

"For Alexandria’s recovery, we know there is a lot riding on the health of our sector," said Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria. "These numbers are positive indicators of progress but clearly we still have a long way to go."

Sales, restaurant and lodging tax revenue had been trending up before the pandemic, reaching $66 million in fiscal year 2019, according to city data. That dropped to $58 million in fiscal year 2020. But while the city anticipated revenue to drop to $53 million in the following fiscal year, actual revenue was $59 million.

Revenue changes did vary by tax, however. Sales tax receipts actually increased in fiscal year 2020 and again in 2021. Restaurant tax receipts fell in 2020 and increased in 2021 — though not quite to the 2019 level. Lodging tax receipts fell in 2020 and again in 2021.

Hotel occupancy hasn't yet returned to the over 70 percent rates seen in the summer and fall of 2019. Rates took a sharp decline in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic to under 20 percent. Rates have recovered some, reaching about 50 percent or more heading into the summer.

Visit Alexandria played a role in pandemic response to support the hospitality and tourism industry. Visit Alexandria's CEO credited City Manager Mark Jinks in giving city departments an early warning about making preparations for COVID-19. That allowed Visit Alexandria to have its ALX at Home ready by the time the lockdown was ordered. The website provided a guide on ways to support businesses from home. Another initiative to promote businesses was adapting Alexandria Restaurant Week in a to-go format.

As businesses reopened with restrictions, Visit Alexandria partnered with the Alexandria Health Department on the ALX Promise. Hundreds of businesses took the pledge to notify customers they were going above and beyond required health and safety measures.

To promote Alexandria has a destination as travel trickled back, Visit Alexandria helped secure Alexandria in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards top five. The city has been on the Best Small Cities list since the category was created in 2018.

Visit Alexandria was also supportive of the city's decision to offer temporary business flexibilities such as expanded outdoor business spaces and the pedestrian-only 100 block of King Street. The tourism organization promoted the city and Alexandria Economic Development Partnership's Back to Business grants as well.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2022, Visit Alexandria will work with American Rescue Plan Act funding from the city to increase advertising. The advertising boost will allow expansion to other media such as streaming audio and Expedia and increase the presence on YouTube, Connected TV and native advertising. There will also be targeted outreach to communities of color with a Spanish-language campaign in regional print, radio and social media channels and a Drop-In Black travel campaign featuring iconic and new travel experiences.

Web visitors will be greeted by a new Visit Alexandria website in spring 2022. Improvements will include a mobile-first design, faster page speed, new mapping and new visuals. On the print side, Visit Alexandria's new 2022-23 Official Visitor Guide & Map will be provided in 95 locations from New York City to DC and Virginia Beach.

Specific topics that Visit Alexandria will promote to visitors will be the waterfront, outdoor experiences, dining, tours, public art, meeting spaces, shopping, inclusive history, and weddings. Residents and visitors alike can look forward to the return of Visit Alexandria's own events in upcoming months — the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights and Portside in Old Town festival.

The meeting allowed Visit Alexandria to give a special recognition to retiring City Manager Jinks for his contributions to the hospitality sector. Jinks is retiring once City Council names a new city manager. Visit Alexandria also recognized the efforts of Alexandria's frontline hospitality staff in a video.

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