Tourism Spending Up 9.6 Percent In Va.I'm inclined to believe that, when it comes to that 200,000 figure, there was some serious permutation and extrapolation going on. After all, is a person slinging hamburgers at a McDonald's along I-81 near Winchester there because tourists are driving up to the window to load up on their morning coffee, or because New Yorkers are stopping by (passers-through) on their way to Dollywood, or because commuters are getting their morning fix before joining the migration to their places of employment over in DC?
The Associated Press
Richmond (AP) - Tourism spending in Virginia continues to grow at a brisk pace.
Governor Tim Kaine's office says tourists spent $16.5 billion in 2005, up a record 9.6 percent over spending in 2004.
Preliminary data from the Virginia Tourism Corporation also shows that more than 200,000 Virginians are directly employed in the tourism industry, with a total payroll in 2005 of more than four billion dollars. (link)
Anyway, taking the figures at face value, what do they mean?
One cannot argue with the fact that Virginia is a powerhouse of a tourist mecca. We have Yorktown. Williamsburg. Fredericksburg / Spotsylvania / Cold Harbor / Malvern Hill / Seven Pines / Manassas / Cedar Creek / Petersburg / Appomattox Court House / Winchester / Balls's Bluff / Drewry's Bluff / Lee's tomb / Stonewall Jackson's grave / Monument Avenue / Hollywood Cemetery. The old state Capitol. Arlington National Cemetery. Quantico. The Pentagon. Antebellum plantations. VMI. Newport News. The battleship Wisconsin. The George C Marshall Museum. The Marine Corps War Memorial. The Museum of American Presidents. The National D-Day Memorial. Natural Bridge. UVA. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. Not to mention the finest beaches on the east coast.
The downside is this: If you were going to join the tourist ranks and take a week to visit Virginia, would you plan a stop at one of the above or would you drive to Southwest Virginia and walk an abandoned railroad track? Or drive the Crooked Road? Or travel past dozens of parks - local, state, and national - to cook wienies on the grill at Hungry Mother Park?
Folks, we cannot compete on this playing field. Don't let any politician tell you we can. Our bike paths and hiking trails will never bring in enough revenue to make an appreciable difference to our local economies. Ever. Nor will the efforts ongoing to have us all learn to strum the banjo and sing for the passers-by at local gas stations/craft shops/bait & tackle stores.
Will Vehrs, over at Commonwealth Conservative, fashions the dilemma in eloquent terms:
I’m an enthusiastic booster of trails. If there’s an old rail bed with no other use, make it a trail. But in a society where finding the closest parking spot to the door of the local fitness center is a triumph, trail tourism is the tiniest of niche markets. Trails are a wonderful local amenity that contribute to an area’s “quality of life.” Disney World they aren’t."... tiniest of niche markets."
Just do a Google search on “trail vacations in Virginia” and see if you can find any program to attract hikers from outside Virginia to the network of beautiful and diverse trails this state offers. I have yet to see any business development assistance program specifically targeting entrepreneurial opportunities that might be associated with trails. (link)
Some will argue that recent history is proving that Southwest Virginia cannot compete in the manufacturing arena either, what with all the textiles and furniture plant closings we've endured. And then there's coal... Well, they would be wrong. Manufacturing thrives in the USA like never before. Just not here. Because we don't demand that our leaders bring about changes that allow for our manufacturers to run at a profit.
I had the opportunity to tour one of my employer's manufacturing facilities up north recently. We were just completing a $14 million upgrade to the plant. The German crew that had been brought in to make the changes were just completing their work. The plant is operating with three shifts round the clock. The facility is a sight to behold. In the industry, the plant is considered the finest of its kind on earth. And we make money. In manufacturing. In the USA. In 2006.
So, it can be done. It's even been done right here in Southwest Virginia. It's still being done by a dwindling number of companies.
But they need our help. The kind of help that won't come about as long as we're focused on hiking trails and paths that lead nowhere.