RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond just had its best year ever in tourism, according to Richmond Region Tourism. And it's off to a strong start this year with the Redskins Training Camp.
Local hotel sales were up 6% in the last fiscal year, taking in a record $274 million.
Richmond Region Tourism President Jack Berry, speaking at the U.S. Travel Association's National Conference in Richmond on Monday, said local tourism has been boosted recently by events like the VMFA's Picasso exhibit.
"Washington flooded here, and once they came here, they couldn't get in, so they went to the historical society, or Can Can restaurant, or they went to shopping malls," explained Berry.
This year, record crowds attended the Redskins Training Camp and put Richmond in the national headlines.
"Because of Griffin's knee," said Berry, "he captures the headlines of every sports show, and it was all based out of Richmond."
The focus now for tourism officials is staying competitive with other cities that also have training camps.
"We cannot sit still because the other destinations are watching our success and they are building to compete against us. So our challenge is the competition," Berry said.
Governor McDonnell spoke at the conference, touting that increased spending on tourism, film, and wine marketing in the last few years has lead to an added 6,000 new tourism jobs, and $600 million in tourism-related tax revenue.
"For every dollar we spend, we get five back in total economic impact," said McDonnell. "I don't care where you're from, that's a good deal."
Virginia Tourism Corporation President Rita McClenny says Virginia's biggest challenge is improving our roads and traffic congestion to keep road travelers coming.
"Transportation is a challenge, and it's something that the Governor is making the investment in the package that was passed," said McClenny, referring to the transportation funding bill that lowered the gas tax and increased the sales tax to fund road projects.
It's especially an issue as Richmond gears up to host upcoming VMFA exhibits, future Redskins Training Camps, and the 2015 Road World Cycling Championships.