Hotel fees show rise in Hanover tourism
Tourism in Hanover County continues to increase.
According to state tourism data the county surpassed its highest record for hotel or motel room sales since before the downturn in the economy in 2008, meaning people are not only visiting the area but they are also starting to linger a little longer.
In Fiscal Year 2012-2013, Hanover raked in approximately $9.6 million of lodging fees compared to when pre-recession sales of $9.4 million in Fiscal Year 2007-2008. Data also show tourism spending for lodging rooms grew by 9 percent from FY2012 to last year.
Tourism experts said a large contributor to the rise in revenue is the diversity in Hanover’s type of attractions.
“With the size of the [locality], it has huge tourism assets,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism.
The county, with a population of about 100,000 residents, offers different types of attractions and opportunities for its visitors, including its two most popular destinations – amusement park, King’s Dominion, and destination retail store Bass Pro Shops.
Bass Pro Shops on Lakeridge Parkway in Hanover County attracts around 2 million visitors a year. The store features a variety of retail for outdoors enthusiasts as well as an expansive aquarium, restaurant and arcade.
Bass Pro Shops, situated along Interstate 95 in Hanover attracts upwards of about 2 million visitors a year, Berry said.
He added that rural Hanover has a wealth of historical attractions and hosts several popular events as well.
“It’s the complete package,” Berry said.
Richmond Region Tourism, a non-profit organization based in Richmond, is responsible for promoting Hanover in addition to the four other localities in the region — Chesterfield, Henrico, New Kent and Richmond.
Collectively, the localities took in $2 billion from visitors purchasing hotel rooms, food, gas and entertainment. Hanover tourists spent $204 million in the 2012 calendar year alone, said Katherine O’Donnell, vice president of community relations. The data is gathered through tax receipts and analysis, then reported each year to the Virginia Tourism Corporation. O’Donnell’s non-profit only utilizes the data and relays it to necessary stakeholders.
O’Donnell said hotel room sales in the region surpassed numbers from before the recession in 2008.
“Tourism in the region is vital and very healthy,” O’Donnell said.
Although Richmond Region Tourism handles most of Hanover’s tourism, a few other players are involved including the county’s economic development office and parks and recreation department.
“Tourism is a specialized skill set,” said Edwin Gaskin, economic development director.
Gaskin said his office does not have the employees or resources with those skills in order to do the job completely.
Instances where Gaskin said he and his team would step in would be if someone wanted to film a movie or commercial in the county. Parks and Recreation would respond to requests dealing with sports events or tournaments, for example.
Generally speaking, a big aspect of tourism is shopping. While an outlet mall is planned for the county, people already travel from all over Virginia and from nearby states such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland to visit Bass Pro Shops.
The store offers apparel, firearms, fish and tackle supplies but also a restaurant and entertainment options such as an expansive aquarium and arcade.
“We focus on being a one-stop stop,” said Greg Bulkley, the store’s general manager.
And the business’ rural location doesn’t stop customers from visiting or taking part in the store’s free activities such as on-site fishing lessons for children in front of the store at its large pond.
“People still go out of their way to find us and visit,” Bulkley said.
Hanover’s other important attributes are its historical attractions such as Civil War battlefields and a historic courthouse.
But Chris Peace, executive director of the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation, said that some of those sites have seen a decline in visitors. The church is known for being one of the locations where the religious freedom movement, “The Great Awakening,” began during the 1700s.
Some history-based destinations are starting to change the way they deliver their information and stories. Peace said sites are figuring out more interactive ways to engage and capture their audiences.
The Historic Polgreen Church Foundation’s website has an interactive tour of the attraction, so that students or individuals who do not live nearby are not missing out on the church’s history and stories.
“It’s really just telling [stories] through a cultural lens,” Peace said.
One way some locations are surviving is through collaboration. Peace said Hanover Tavern, Hanover Tourism Supporters and other organizations will join forces to share ideas or promote each other, because working together is vital to keeping each site’s story alive.
The county’s economic development department recognizes that some attractions in Hanover may struggle with drawing and keeping visitors.
Gaskin said he treats tourist attractions just like any other business he works with, such as a movie theater or retail store, because of the lack of resources and personnel within the county for tourism.
“They all have to compete for people to come through their doors,” Gaskin said.
But Gaskin said a task for more businesses in Hanover is to create additional reasons for individuals to linger longer and return to the county for more visits.
“Many businesses spend a lot of capital just to get a customer in once,” he said.
Gaskin said that is important, but there is another factor that’s more vital — getting individuals to come back again and again for more visits.
“That’s the investment you’re after,” Gaskin said.
One way this can be accomplished is through “cross-pollination,” which happens when tourists utilize a number of attractions in a visit and are given a reason to go to these destinations. Businesses end up all benefiting from the same visitors.
One example would be if a tourist participating in one of the county’s most attended events such as Ashland’s Train Day, Strawberry Faire or the Hanover Tomato Festival. Then after a festival, perhaps the tourists eat at a local restaurant and spend the night at a hotel. They may spend the following day visiting Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown or stop by the historic Hanover Tavern.
This is something grassroots organization Hanover Tourism Supporters tries to promote, said David Fuller, chairman of the group.
Fuller said the organization wants to “enable the constituents,” which he said includes everyone from tour guides to equestrian shop owners, in addition to the usual attractions like amusement parks and museums.
“These are all parts of the tourism base,” Fuller said.
The group helps those stakeholders monopolize on all possible opportunities and encourages them to promote their fellow businesses.
Another facet of tourism that more localities are starting to take advantage of is sports tourism.
Berry said sports tourism makes up 53 percent of Richmond Region Tourism’s total future event bookings for the region. He added that it’s a huge economic development driver, citing the impact the upcoming Winter Olympics will have on Russia.
“Look at what the Olympics are doing for Russia’s economy,” he said.
Hanover is already participating in some sports tourism. The county co-hosts the Jefferson Cup, which is a soccer tournament that’s also hosted by Chesterfield and Henrico as well as other localities. Part of the tournament is held at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville and families will book rooms at hotels in Ashland and parts of Hanover during their stay.
“It’s the second largest soccer tournament in the country,” Berry said.
Monopolizing on attractions like sports tournaments and Hanover’s most attended festivals while drawing those crowds to less-visited destinations, such as a restaurant, amusement park or historical venue, is the county’s current “problem,” from an economic development perspective, Gaskin said.
“And that’s a great problem to have,” he said.