Sports tourism takes hit, but eyes bounce-back

Sports tourism takes hit, but eyes bounce-back

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT)- Hotels, restaurants and state-of-the-art facilities- just a few reasons why the Richmond area has become a home run for sports tourism. But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown organizers a curveball.

Last year, sports tourism accounted for 60 percent of Richmond Region Tourism's bookings.

"In 2019, 171,000 visitors visited the region with a direct economic impact spend of about $62.5 million," said J.C. Poma, Director of Sports Relations at Richmond Region Tourism.

But because of the current pandemic, 2020 is taking a hit.

“Right now we’ve had 26 events canceled with a direct economic impact of $10 million and 38,000 room nights coming to our area,” noted Poma.

One of those events is the Jefferson Cup, one of the top youth soccer tournaments in the country, put on by the Richmond Strikers. The 2020 tournament was set to bring 1,000 teams from all across the nation to the area.

"It's more of a 'we are all' within the strikers community trying to figure it out," said Strikers' executive director Jay Howell. "It's just difficult because every day there's a new variable."

However, Richmond Richmond Tourism isn't folding up and going home. The organization is working vigorously with its partners to try and reschedule as many events as they possibly can, including the Jefferson Cup, which has been rescheduled for July.

"Sports tourism is actually one of the leading sectors in the hospitality industry," said Poma. "It's proven throughout the years to be resilient to economic duress. It's a quick re-booking industry."

"We're looking at probably 50-60 percent that will probably come back for the event in July," added Howell. "We've had a lot of interest outside of that group that was originally in the Jefferson Cup."

It's already scheduled to be a record-setting summer with the number of sporting events scheduled to happen in the area, but the tourism group says it's taking unprecedented steps to accommodate, and it will be a time to celebrate when athletes can once again take the field.

“Once we start going with all of our sport, we’ll continue onto summertime,” said Howell. I think there’s going to be a great need for our membership and the community to get back out and reconnect and I think athletics is a great way of doing that."

"We really feel strongly that when things are back up and going in June, people are going to support sports, continue to enroll their kids in sports and we're really excited to welcome sports back into our community," Poma remarked.

Both Poma and Howell added that their organizations are flexible and are ready to adjust if the pandemic runs into the summer.

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