By LAINE GRIFFIN
Daily News-Record 9/13/19
HARRISONBURG — The Harrisonburg Tourism Department is celebrating its success after bringing in around $131.4 million in tourism dollars in 2018.
The number accounts for people staying in hotels, motels, shopping and dining in the city.
According to the United States Travel Association, it is a 5.3% increase from 2017.
Due to the $131.4 million, the overall tax collected in Harrisonburg from tourism was $4,822,639 compared to $4,674,366 in 2017, which is a 3.2% increase.
“It’s an important number thinking of that number being a result of tourism,” Harrisonburg Tourism Manager Jennifer Bell said in a Thursday interview.
The tourism budget manages promotion of the city, regional collaboration, partnerships, conferences that staff attend, convention planning and the visitors center among other things.
The local tourism jobs, which Bell said mainly revolve around hotels and motels, totaled 1,195 in 2018.
“In many other surrounding localities, when tax collection increases, more funds are given to the tourism department, but that’s not the case in Harrisonburg,” Bell said, although she did not give specific examples of other localities. For every dollar the tourism department can bring in in tax revenue, it reduces the amount of taxes city residents have to pay.
Around $5.6 million of the income went toward the state, “which technically reduces state taxes for residents too,” Bell said.
Tourism in Virginia generated $26 billion in travel spending in 2018, contributing $1.8 billion in state and local taxes, according to the United States Travel Association.
“This increase is a statewide trend,” Bell said. “In all areas the United States Travel Association tracked, it saw an increase in tourism spending.”
Harrisonburg’s percentage increases across the board are ahead of the state average, according to Bell.
With three new hotels opening up in the city in the near future — the La Quinta off Pleasant Valley, Best Western off Neff Avenue and the Hyatt Place off Evelyn Byrd Avenue — Bell said the city will be able to accommodate more tourists.
At the end of the year, the Horizons Edge Sports Campus will open, which will bring a big impact to the sports tourism in the city.
“I hope we can continue to see a steady increase in our numbers here,” Bell said. “To us, it’s great validation that the tourism efforts continue to be successful along with our marketing and outreach because it brings more people into the city and in turn, more funds.”
Bell said she hasn’t made any projections for what she expects to see the numbers to be for 2019 but will look into those projections once she begins working on next year’s fiscal budget next month.
She said she wants to continue to encourage people to visit the tourism website, https://www.visitharrisonburgva.com/ and stop by the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center, located at 212 S. Main St.
“It’s not only helpful for tourists but also residents who have people coming to visit or who don’t know of all the new additions the city has,” Bell said. “We have great resources and we want people to take advantage of all the city has to offer.”