Loudoun’s sister cities and counties around the world give it a boost in both international business and tourism, reported Visit Loudoun president and CEO Beth Erickson and Loudoun Department of Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer.
Rizer and Erickson were giving the county finance committee their annual report on the county’s sister city relationships on Nov. 13. Those relationships have come under scrutiny during this Board of Supervisors’ term, as Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) has questioned whether all of those relationships are worth the time and effort for Loudoun.
In 2016, the Board of Supervisors adopted criteria for designating sister city relationships as active or inactive, based on visits of elected officials, student and cultural exchanges; collaboration on economic development; and staff exchanges. Five of Loudoun’s six sister cities were designated active, including Main-Taunus-Kreis, Germany; Goyang City and Gangneung City in South Korea; New Taipei, Taiwan; and Shunyi District in China.
The county designated its relationship with the sixth, Karsiyaka Municipality in Turkey, as inactive. This year, county staff members have not recommended any changes to that list.
But Loudoun’s economic development and tourism leaders said those relationships have brought the county opportunities abroad, plans for an Olympic training program, and millions of dollars in tourist spending—particularly from Asia.
Erickson said her office has had particular success in the relationship with Shunyi District. Visit Loudoun has worked with international consulting firm Triway International Group on booking travel into the DC region directly into Loudoun. Since 2015, Triway has booked more than 18,000 rooms in Loudoun, for a total of nearly $1.2 million for Loudoun’s hotels. Many Loudoun hotels are “China Ready,” with services ready for Chinese tourists, and Cathay Pacific Airways launched direct flights to Hong Kong leaving four times a week in September.
Leesburg Premium Outlets remains a favorite for tourists from Asia, and has recently begun accepting China UnionPay, allowing visitors to pay with credit cards from China. She said that’s a “really great differentiating factor” for Loudoun.
“I would expect to see continued growth in this market, just because the market is so large and the opportunity is great,” Erickson said.
Loudoun also has a burgeoning relationship with its sister cities in South Korea, which has been particularly shown in athletics, including bookings for international Tae Kwon Do tournaments. Loudoun officials also met with the US Olympic Committee and US Speedskating during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea to see about bringing an Olympic training program when the ION International training center opens in Leesburg in 2019. Already, the executive director of US Speedskating has visited Loudoun and met with Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams to discuss launching a pilot skating physical education program, planned for spring 2019.
And Erickson said when South Korean tourists come to the DC region, Loudoun can be the first and last place they visit.
Rizer said those relationships are also important for Loudoun’s businesses.
“Sister cities are one of the most important tools we have to use to enter into the markets,” Rizer said. “It gives us a landing place, credibility in those markets.”
His office is currently working to expand Loudoun’s reach abroad into new areas. His office has met with representatives of several municipalities in India, but so far has been unable to establish a sister city relationship. And next year, he said, his office will also be putting more focus on Europe.
In the past year, Loudoun celebrated the 10th anniversary of its relationship with Main-Taunus Kreis, and has twice hosted visitors from its sister county’s fire department. The annual student exchange program also continued, including among other businesses and agencies, an internship at Loudoun Now by 15-year-old exchange student Luisa Fritsch.