Tourism income and jobs on the rise

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – A sluggish economy can't touch Richmond's Tourism Department. Local experts tell us they're seeing record numbers of visitors and revenue. That's helping create jobs.

The Richmond tourism area boasts close to 20,000 jobs. Several of the most recent- added at the Civil War Gateway Visitor's Center which officially opened today. A place tourism leaders see is a gateway to history-- and even more tourist spending.

It's easy to see why tourists get fired up to come here. History brought the Maerckleins from Minnesota.

"We're spending about a month in Virginia cruising around, looking at battlefields," said Peter Maercklein.

During that month, they're spending a lot of money.

"We're buying lots of fuel, and the campground, and the grocery stores and eating out some," said Phyllis Maercklein.

"That's what we do, is spend all our money. Virginia should be very happy!" Peter added.

Tourism officials say all those dollars continue to create more jobs - like Justin Shear's. He recently started work at the new Civil War Gateway Visitor's Center.

"Really happy to be able to be working. I know a lot of people are having a hard time finding a job that they like or even any job," Justin said.

Tourism leaders say heavy marketing and easy access to the interstate are driving their success.

"In the Richmond region, we had one of the best years ever. Hotel revenue was back to 2006 numbers, the attractions are setting record attendance," said Jack Berry with the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Plus, once people come here, they often return.

"The secret of the Richmond area's success is we're history, but we're so much more," Barry said.

Tourism leaders say 44% of visitors say they'll return to the area within the year. 90% say they'll come back in the long term.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.