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COVID-19 disrupts Virginia tourism ahead of peak season

Virginia’s tourism industry is losing money due to COVID-19. The industry brings billions of revenue into Virginia each year, according to the Virginia Tourism Corp. and travel spending plummeted in March.

Capital News Service

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By Macy Pressley

Michael Moore has always enjoyed his job as wine trail guide with Top Shelf Transportation. He said the job is about more than wine.

“I get people anything they need,” Moore said. “I’m like a rolling concierge.”

Moore, 71, works in the Monticello Wine Trail region, which ecompasses parts of Albermarle and Nelson counties and contains about 35 wineries. It is widely considered to be one of Virginia’s top wine regions. Moore has worked in the industry for the past seven years, after he retired as a graphic designer. But, in mid-March, his tours were cancelled due to Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to close non-essential businesses and ban gatherings of 10 or more to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“I guess I’m out of a job,” Moore said. “The whole industry has come to a screeching halt.”

Moore is not alone, and COVID-19 has not just impacted jobs in the state’s tourism industry. Since Northam’s order, there has been a sharp spike in unemployment rates, with 306,143 Virginians filing for unemployment insurance in the past three weeks.

Moore is not worried about his finances, but many people in the tourism industry are not as lucky.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Some of the bigger wineries, they’ve got a cushion, but their workers are out of work. And it’s all part-time workers.”

Travel spending in Virginia plummeted after stay-at-home orders were announced around the country, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Spending was $521 million in Virginia the first week of March, but dipped to $119 million by the end of the month. Compared to last year’s numbers, travel spending in the state was down 78% the last week in March. Tourism is a major source of revenue for Virginia, pulling in $26 billion in 2018, according to the Virginia Tourism Corp. The industry accounted for 234,000 jobs that year.

Andrew Cothern, communications manager for VTC, said Virginia attracts so many tourists because it has something for everyone.

“Virginia has a lot of different travel opportunities, whether the traveler’s interested in history or outdoor recreation or dining,” Cothern said. “There’s a lot of different reasons why people want to come to Virginia.”

Cothern said that COVID-19 has changed everything.

“With the COVID-19 crisis going on, a lot of people are not traveling, obviously, and it’s closed down a lot of business,” Cothern said.

The businesses hardest hit will be the ones that usually attract large crowds, he said. This might include museums, theaters, parks, restaurants and wineries. VTC, and others in the tourism industry, are working to make some of these experiences virtual and earn a little revenue. For example, the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton is streaming recorded versions of the troupe’s 2020 performances. Tickets start at $10.

Moore, however, cannot work from home. He said companies like the one he works for may be in jeopardy.

“There will be some wine tour companies that will go out of business,” he said. “They’ve all got leases and cars and insurance they still have to pay for, even when they’re not touring.”

Large scale events have been affected, like the ones produced by Venture Richmond, a nonprofit that organizes events in downtown Richmond. Venture Richmond canceled Dominion Riverock, one of its largest festivals held on Brown’s Island. Stephen Lecky, director of events for the organization, said losing the festival was a disappointment to everyone, including vendors. Lecky said the festival draws 100,000 to 150,000 people annually and they contract with hundreds of musicians, athletes and other vendors.

“All these folks, food vendors and traveling vendors included, will not have this event and it will impact them financially,” Lecky said.

Lecky said that once a festival is cancelled potential revenue is gone.

“That’s $2 to $3 million that we won’t be seeing,” he said, meaning the city, musicians and vendors.

Lecky also is concerned about Friday Cheers, a weekly concert series that Venture Richmond organizes. The event typically draws 3,000 to 5,000 people to Belle Isle between May and June, Lecky said. Venture Richmond has cancelled events through May and hopes to reschedule those musicians for later in the summer, but Lecky is worried people will be weary of large crowds.

“If a vaccine is not available to people by September, October–will people truly feel safe and comfortable in large crowds and events like this?” Lecky said.

Lecky said in the future, event coordinators will have to be more careful.

“Events are going to have to be more proactive on ways they are doing things,” he said. “Do events go cashless? Are employees wearing gloves? Are you sanitizing more frequently? I think attendees are going to want to see these kinds of changes now.”

 Though more people are turning to outdoor recreation during the coronavirus outbreak, Virginia state and national parks are closing. The Rappahannock Rapidan Health District of the Virginia Department of Health recommended on April 8 the full closure of Shenandoah National Park, which has over 500 miles of hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy on April 3 formally requested permission to close the 2,193-mile trail through the end of the month. A long stretch of it winds through the state.

Virginia State Parks have also taken a hit from COVID-19. The 38 parks attract 11 million visitors annually, with 45% of park spending coming from out-of-state visitors, according to Dave Neudeck, communications and marketing director for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. Neudeck said the parks have canceled campground and cabin reservations through June 10. They have also closed visitor centers.

“It’s definitely going to hit our budget because the revenues generated from our overnight facilities and our merchandise sales in our visitor centers are significant,” Neudeck said.

Neudeck is optimistic about the future of the parks and said this crisis might make people more appreciative of nature.

“What we are seeing right now is that more people are looking to parks and state parks to get outside and get that fresh air and get some exercise when they can,” he said. “Therefore, we are seeing a lot of first time visitors to our parks. The hope is that we’ll continue beyond when everything turns back to normal.”

For now, many are making the best of the crisis. Moore is making masks for health care professionals. Lecky is attempting to rebook vendors for later festivals. Cothern said VTC will increase promotional materials once people are allowed to travel freely. All agreed that the tourism industry is resilient and people will come back to Virginia.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Experience some of Virginia’s best cultural, historic, and natural attractions online at home

While people are staying at home, Virginia museums, wildlife centers, theaters, and other tourism destinations are providing online educational opportunities to keep everyone learning. From interactive classes to puzzles and games to streaming services, here are some fun ways to virtually educate and entertain while social distancing.

RVAHub Staff

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While people are staying at home, Virginia museums, wildlife centers, theaters, and other tourism destinations are providing online educational opportunities to keep everyone learning. From interactive classes to puzzles and games to streaming services, here are some fun ways to virtually educate and entertain while social distancing.

Educational Experiences with Museums and Historic Sites

  • Virginia residents and history lovers can access 400 years of Virginia history through the Virginia History Trails mobile app. Curated by the Library of Virginia and Virginia Humanities, the app contains more than 400 stories and more than 200 historic places. Users can immerse themselves in a themed trail that winds across the Commonwealth or employ the app’s GPS feature to find nearby historical sites and immediately transform their surroundings into a live history experience.
  • Colonial Williamsburg offers learners and other enthusiasts a new way to experience America’s shared story at home with the introduction of the Colonial Williamsburg streaming channel. The free new channel can be found in the “Educational” category on Amazon Fire TV and Roku TV, and offers a growing library of curated video content from the past and present in one easy-to-view location
  • Alexandria’s Carlyle House hosts “Discovery Through Trash” videos on its social media channels. Each video will reveal fragments of a centuries-old artifact found in the house’s trash pit. Viewers can try to guess the whole artifact, then be surprised as a box is lifted to reveal the object in its entirety.
  • The Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is enhancing revolutionary history with interactive digital learning experiences like the Legacy Wall and the “How Revolutionary Are You?” quiz.

Discover Wildlife, Natural Wonders and Gardens From Home

  • The Virginia Zoo’s Augmented Reality Tour gives curious animal lovers the inside scoop with a virtual tour featuring 12 stops around the Zoo. The tour educates virtual visitors about the Zoo’s animal residents, conservation efforts for the species, provides behind-the-scenes videos and more.
  • Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden offers virtual visits and audio tours, online learning and activities for kids, recipes from the Garden Cafe and resources for families to learn about gardening at home.
  • Air and Space Anywhere offers videos and interactive activities for distance engagement with the Museum for virtual visitors of all ages, including the AirSpace podcast, virtual tours of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, activities and games, 3D exploration of artifacts, pioneer stories and more.
  • The Science Museum of Virginia offers videos that teach about science words, the recipe for planetary habitability and more. Their “Experimental Musings” blog covers multiple STEM topics from the Keto diet to seasonal allergies for pets.

Virtual Activities for Kids With a Creative Side

  • The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum is posting daily activities to continue their mission of engaging learning through play, including videos, hands on science projects, art projects, read aloud books, physical activities and more – all around a daily theme.
  • Explore More Children’s Museum launched Explore More at Home, a collection of curated activities that explore a variety of themes.
  • Roanoke’s Kids Square Children’s Museum airs live videos on Facebook featuring everything from science experiments, DIY activities, book reading and more.

Virtual Live Theater and Education Options

  • The American Shakespeare Center is bringing Blackfriars Playhouse online with cinema-quality streaming video of the complete 2020 Actors’ Renaissance and Tour Homecoming seasons.
  • The Grandin Theatre in Roanoke is offering movies to rent and watch from home on the theater’s streaming platform.
  • The Barter Theatre in Abingdon is offering its patrons the ability to stream productions from home. The theater’s current production of “Peter Pan” will be online to patrons as well as access special bonus features. The theater will also be providing coordinating educator resources, including lesson plans and a study guide.

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Coronavirus Support List

An ongoing list of resources and businesses that are helping the Richmond community in this time of crisis.

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Infection Updates

Social Distancing

Social distancing is the term used to describe certain actions recommended by health officials to disrupt the chain of contagion in a pandemic.  This involves steps such as: keeping 3-6 feet from others, avoiding public gatherings, and limiting face to face contact with others.

Food

  • Richmond Public Schools has begun meal distribution for ALL RPS families that starts today, Monday, March 16th. Please visit one of our food distribution sites 9:30 am-12:30 pm to receive shelf sustainable food for your family during the break! Sites will be open Monday-Friday.

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Housing

  • Greater Richmond Continuum (GRCoC) is providing emergency shelter alternatives and coordinated plans to aid the homeless in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

    The GRCoC partners need donations to meet the needs of the homeless population:

    – $10 gift cards for gas stations and food for shelter residents and unsheltered individuals;

    – Cleaning supplies, including soap, hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash masks, and disposable face masks;

    – Thermometers;

    – Canned food; and

    – Bus tickets for residents.

    If you’re interested in donating, please contact Michael Rogers of Homeward at [email protected] or via phone at 804-343-2045, extension 22. If you’d like to donate directly, click here.

Education

  • Attention RPS Families! If you need a computer and/or internet access for any RPS students in your care, click here and complete this survey: www.rvaschools.net/tech-survey.
  • Visual Arts Center is offering a way to nurture your creative spirit without leaving home this week? Our friend Michael-Birch Pierce is this month’s Creative Mornings speaker and registration just opened online! The event will be hosted 100% digitally this Friday, March 20, and it will explore the theme of identity. Michael-Birch Pierce is a fiber artist and fashion designer who has embroidered portraits at the Oscars, the Super Bowl, Design/Miami, SXSW, and even embroidered Christmas decorations for the Obama White House. Read more and shop their work at michaelbirchpierce.com. More info here.
  • Scholastic set up a ‘Learn From Home’ website with four categories: PreK and Kindergarten, Grades 1 and 2, Grades 3-5, and Grades 6+. Each section is already equipped with one week of content for students with 15 additional days on the way.
  • Comcast is offering free internet for low income families. Go to InternetEssentials.com or call 855-846-8376 for English or call 855-765-6995 for Spanish. All new customers will receive “a free self-install kit” with no shipping fee.
  • Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems! (free video series) 📚 Join the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence at Home as Mo Willems invites YOU into his studio every weekday at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to draw, doodle and explore new ways of writing—starting today, March 16th. Learn more kennedy-center.org/education/mo-willems
  • Compiled list of education companies offering free subscriptions due to school closings amazingeducationalresources.com
  • List of coloring books/pages from museums from around the world. Some are experiencing difficulty due to heavy traffic.
  • Richmond Public Schools learning resources (English and Spanish) can be found at https://www.rpstech.org/parents.html and https://www.rpstech.org/ell.html.
  • Virginia Museum of History & Culture offering FREE Online Resources and Digital Programming
  • VPM.org/resources is a hub for news, educational materials and entertainment for our audience. There you’ll find links to:
    • Continuing local news coverage from VPM News
    • Access to the VPM PBS KIDS 24/7 channel video stream (also available for free, over the air)
    • Educational games from PBS KIDS, plus a daily newsletter for parents
    • VPM PBS Learning Media platform for educators and caregivers of pre-K – 12 students
    • Plus easy access to the VPM Music stream, Passport video streaming platform and television guide to keep audiences engaged and connected
  • Richmond’s LGBTQ Chamber is offering a Relief Fund available in Mid April to members of the Chamber experiencing personal and/or financial hardship. If you find yourself in need please email them at [email protected] Funds are limited so they ask if you can to please donate to the Relief Fund and help other business owners and professionals in the community.

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Stuck at home? Explore some of Virginia’s most significant historic, cultural sites online for free

Just because you’re social distancing it doesn’t mean you cant explore some of Virginia’s most magnificent cultural and historical sites virtually, online, for free. Here’s a roundup of where you can explore and what you can learn.

RVAHub Staff

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By Caroline Logan, Virginia Tourism

With the international crisis regarding COVID-19, also referred to as Coronavirus, visitors may be canceling or rescheduling upcoming travel plans and staying home.

While people are self-isolating and social distancing, many museums, historic sites, and other tourism destinations are offering virtual options for visitors to explore and learn.

Mount Vernon will continue its mission to educate people around the world through its robust digital presence. The historic site will provide digital tours of the mansion through mountvernon.org/virtualtour. The Washington Library has also prepared digital resources for students and their parents will be working with its network of teachers nationwide to support their educational efforts. These resources can be accessed at mountvernon.org/digital. Mount Vernon’s YouTube channel also features a livestream of the estate’s newborn lambs.

Monticello hosts a number of online exhibits including “The Declaration Around the World,” “The Life of Sally Hemings,” and “Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello,” among many others. Users can also download the Slavery at Monticello: Life and Work on Mulberry Row app for free.

James Madison’s Montpelier has publicly accessible blog posts, websites, podcasts, and social media posts for visitors to enjoy. Access to podcasts and video series can be found on the site’s YouTube page. Those interested in the research, history, archaeology, and collecting at Montpelier can visit the Digital Doorway for a wealth of information at digitaldoorway.montpelier.org.

Colonial Williamsburg is adding content to its Explore From Home website from the people who bring history to life. Resources include guides for teachers, quizzes and puzzles for students, interactive timeline, pages for exploring art collections, and printable coloring sheets from The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, as well as libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world.

The Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond will be offering free online video content, webinars, student learning resources, and virtual tours at VirginiaHistory.org/AtHome.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle has a virtual tour and numerous distance learning opportunities. The rich, interactive virtual environment will serve as the gateway for Marines and visitors to see the museum from the comfort of their homes. The museum’s online distance learning programs engage audiences with the history of the United States Marine Corps.  Programs include a plethora of virtual learning experiences and subject matter for people to learn important and interesting topics related to the Marine Corps. Take the virtual tour at virtualusmcmuseum.com and access the distance learning programs at usmcmuseum.com/distance-learning.html.

The Chrysler Museum of Art located in Norfolk’s NEON Arts District features 50 galleries, 30,000 objects, and a world-renowned glass collection. Viewers can take a virtual tour through the galleries as well as explore the museum’s Digital Collections featuring European and American paintings, sculptures and decorative arts and works from African, ancient Egyptian, Pre-Columbian, Islamic and Asian cultures.

Join the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk for a Virtual Voyage every day at 2 p.m. (March 16 – 30, 2020) on its Facebook page. Visitors can go behind the scenes, tour the zoo, and check in on their favorite animals. The zoo’s Virtual Voyage website also offers augmented reality tours, printable activity sheets, a YouTube video series, and more.

Take a virtual walking tour of historic Fincastle in Botetourt County with over 50 individual “stops,” each complete with a picture and background about the location.

The Kids Square Children’s Museum in Roanoke will go live on Facebook at least once a day during the week until reopening. They’ll be doing everything from science experiments to book reading. Visitors joining the livestream have the chance to win one of the items that Kids Square is playing with that day.

The Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum offers the following online exhibits for individuals to learn more about folk heritage in the Blue Ridge region.

  • Full Throttle: Racing and Rodding in Southwest and Central Virginia
  • Moonshine: Blue Ridge Style
  • Deathly Lyrics: Songs of Virginia Tragedies
  • Earthenware Along the Great Road in Virginia and Tennessee

The Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke has images and background information on nearly every item in the rail, road, air, and ship collections. Collections are separated by category and can be accessed here.

The William King Museum of Art in Abingdon will be broadcasting live via Facebook every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. Videos will include tours of the galleries, insider looks at collections, family-friendly art projects, and live art demos.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond is sharing  “Virtual Visits” on its Facebook page as well as putting resources for learning (including activities for kids) and ideas for relaxation and mental health on its website lewisginter.org.

Take a virtual tour around Virginia Beach’s cultural enclave by using this Google Mural Map to explore the ViBe Creative District on a virtual, self-guided mural tour. Click on the map icons to find information about the artists, artworks and locations, along with multiple images of the artwork and video links of murals created during the last two years of the ViBe Mural Festival.

The Barter Theatre in Abingdon is working to offer its patrons the ability to stream productions from home. The production of “Peter Pan” that was originally scheduled to open on April 7 will be online to patrons as well as access special bonus features. The theatre will also be providing coordinating educator resources, including lesson plans and a study guide. More information can be found here: bartertheatre.com/barter-theatre-on-demand

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach will provide entertaining, educational content to fans including live streams, video footage, crafts for kids, and behind the scenes peeks on its website and social media channels.

The City of Alexandria created a new web hub called ALX at Home, which brings residents and nearby visitors their favorite Alexandria restaurants, shops and attractions to the comfort of their own home. Features include:

  • 50+ restaurant and 15 retail deals and offerings
  • Attraction offerings such as virtual tours and a “Ride it Out” bike rental program from Unlimited Biking.
  • Cocktail Corner for Happy Hour at home with instructional videos from The Hour boutique.
  • Puppy Love, bringing a daily dose of cuteness from Alexandria’s four-legged friends.

The Omni Homestead ResortThe Omni Homestead Resort’s podcast, Beyond the Tower offers an insider’s look into one of America’s most iconic resorts. From historical anecdotes to one-of-a-kind experiences, Beyond the Tower includes topics from the history of the resort and golf to the Garth Newel Music Center and the resort’s partnership with a local farmer. Each episode begins and ends with “Welcome to My Homestead,” an original composition from David Hill, a native of Roanoke, Virginia and one of the resort’s most popular musicians.

For those interested in historic moments of Virginia, listen to the Following Harriet podcast. Following Harriet takes a closer look at the life of one of the bravest and most extraordinary women in our country’s history. It also puts Harriet in a broader context, examining the 19th Century experience of African Americans, especially in Virginia.

Do you know of any other online options that attractions are providing? Let us know in the comments below.

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