This year’s National Travel & Tourism Week was expected to feature a celebration of the accomplishments Visit Loudoun has achieved over its quarter century of service.
That special 25th anniversary program was originally scheduled for May 7, but was one of the many community events canceled as part of the battle against the spread of COVID-19.
While the organization helped build Loudoun into one of the commonwealth’s largest tourism destinations, its focus now is helping the hospitality venues that were thriving before the statewide shutdown in March successfully ramp up as the limits on public gatherings wind down.
Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson sees lots of reason for optimism.
“The contribution of tourism to Loudoun is invaluable,” Erickson said. “In 2018, we were the third highest generator of visitor revenue in the Commonwealth of Virginia, accounting for $1.84 billion—more than Virginia Beach and Williamsburg—and our industry put more than 18,000 people to work. There is no way to downplay the impact of COVID-19 on us—it’s been rough. But in keeping with this week’s NTTW theme, ‘The Spirit of Travel,’ it’s been inspiring to see how quickly and creatively our industry adapted to the crisis.”
Loudoun has long boasted its status as an internet capital, and that has paid dividends over the past two months. “I have never been more thankful for technology,” Erickson said.
She pointed to the innovations that were quickly adopted by restaurants, breweries, wineries and farm stores that moved to online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery to stay in business; and created meaningful virtual experiences with behind-the-scenes videos, live video chats and concerts, and online wine tastings. Visit Loudoun hosted special webinars with industry leaders and state and county officials, keeping businesses informed on subjects ranging from social media strategies to interpreting state and federal regulations and outlining financial aid opportunities. The Visit Loudoun Foundation partnered with the Community Foundation of Loudoun and the Loudoun Chamber Foundation to launch a fund to help tourism or hospitality employees, raising more than $30,000 to date.
As Gov. Ralph Northam looks to roll back on business and travel restrictions, Erikson believes the industries that were hardest hit at the beginning of the pandemic will lead the economic recovery coming out of it.
“When we begin going out to restaurants, shops, breweries and wineries again we will know we are on a positive path. In a nutshell: Loudoun’s recovery starts with tourism,” she said.
Among the steps Visit Loudoun is taking to support the industry is the launch of its “Glass Half Full” marketing campaign, which will promote Loudoun’s open spaces, fresh air, rural roads and great food, wine and craft beer. “The campaign will pay homage to all that makes Loudoun a unique and wonderful place to live in and to visit and will include some of virtual experiences resourceful Loudoun businesses created during lockdown,” Erickson said.
State and CDC guidelines will play an important role in building consumer confidence, and thus in the pace and scale of the rebound, but Erickson said Loudoun will be well positioned to welcome visitors back. And, with many families likely to be reluctant to jump into international travel, regional destinations are expected to benefit.
“We will be here when they are ready. And when they get here, they will have a great experience,” she said.