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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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Diversity Richmond Providing Thanksgiving Day Drive-Thru

Food will be distributed by order of arrival, no early arrivals will be accepted.

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Thanksgiving Day Drive-Thru
Thurs., Nov. 26th
11:30 a.m. ’til 2:00 p.m.
Diversity Richmond parking lot
1407 Sherwood Ave., RVA 23220

You’re invited to swing by a pick up a free delicious hot Thanksgiving meal catered by Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen, courtesy of Black Pride RVA and the Laughing Gull Foundation.

Food will be distributed by order of arrival. We will not accept early arrivals. To ensure the health and safety of our volunteers and community members, we will adhere to COVID-19 CDC guidelines. Please remain in your vehicle and open the window of your vehicle when it’s your turn in line. All COVID-19 protocols are in place for all people preparing and handling the food. See you then!

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Events

All Aboard, the Train Tradition Returns to Science Museum of Virginia

The three-day event features six different train displays with various scaled locomotives riding through intricate landscapes and miniature cities.

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It wouldn’t be the weekend after Thanksgiving in Richmond without train-themed fun at the Science Museum of Virginia’s Model Railroad Show, presented by Dominion Energy. While the event will look different this year due to capacity limitations, the Museum is excited to host the model train club displays for the 43rd year November 27 through 29.

The three-day event features six different train displays with various scaled locomotives riding through intricate landscapes and miniature cities. Created by HO, O and N-scale model train enthusiasts from across Virginia, guests will also enjoy seeing the classic scenes in the displays of clubs that have participated in previous Model Railroad Shows for decades.

“The Model Railroad Show is a nearly half century Virginia holiday tradition,” said Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti. “It was important to us to keep the tradition going, but to do so in the safest manner possible. Every change we’ve made to this year’s event is designed to help manage guest flow to create a safe and enjoyable event for families to create lasting memories.”

One of the most important changes for this year’s event is that all guests – including Museum members – must purchase tickets in advance through the website or by calling guest services. No walk-up tickets will be sold at the Museum. Tickets go on sale on the Museum’s website today, Nov. 10.

To manage the flow of guests, the Museum is offering timed entry both to the Museum and to the Model Railroad Show with a limited number of tickets available in each timeslot. When purchasing a ticket, guests will select their Museum entry time. Entry to the Model Railroad Show, held in the Dewey Gottwald Center, will be 30 minutes after guests arrive at the Museum.

The Museum will offer member-only hours each day from 8 – 9:15 a.m.; general public entry times will begin at 9:30 a.m. daily. The last ticket time slot will be 3:45 p.m. each day to allow guests time to experience the Model Railroad Show before the Museum closes at 5 p.m.

The Museum has adjusted operating procedures, including requiring masks, so guests are encouraged to review the reopening policies on the Museum’s website at www.smv.org/welcome before their visit. There is no reentry to the space housing the Model Railroad Show and/or the Museum all three days of the event.

While at the Museum during Model Railroad Show weekend, guests can take in free planetarium shows offered in the Dome at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day. Guests can also help with a collaborative railroad scene and make a conductor hat in The Forge. Museum educators will offer steam engine demos in various places around the building, and this year’s event also includes a display of historical Broad Street Station items from the Museum’s collection. In addition to the themed activities, the Museum’s “Speed,” “Boost!” and “Giant Insects” exhibits will all be open for guests to explore.

The Museum is grateful for Dominion Energy’s continued support of the Model Railroad Show as they return as presenting sponsor for the third year.

“We are especially pleased to sponsor this event again this year,” said Hunter A. Applewhite, president of the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation. “The expansive display of model trains will bring some much-needed joy and fun to our community as 2020 comes to a close.”

Model Railroad Show activities are free with Museum admission. Museum members and children two and under are admitted free. The Museum offers discounts for military, teachers and EBT cardholders. Qualifying guests should call 804.864.1400 for details about reserving those tickets with the discount code.

Planetarium shows in the Dome are free of charge all weekend, and seating is first come, first served. Each showing is limited to 50 people, and there is no food or drink allowed in the Dome. The Museum’s gift shop will be open each day of the show, but the café and concessions will be closed.

 

Check out more of our photos from last year’s show.

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Events

Ring in the new year in an active way with Sports Backers’ new “So Long 2020” virtual 5K

“2020 has been a challenging year, and wasn’t what any of us expected, but we’ve also seen great resilience from so many people to stay committed to active living,” said Meghan Keogh, Director of Events for Sports Backers. “As part of our nonprofit mission to provide opportunities for people to stay healthy and stay strong, we’ve focused on creating a number of new events to keep people motivated. We’re looking forward to providing another chance for participants to get active and start 2021 on a positive, energetic note.”

RVAHub Staff

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Sports Backers is inviting participants to put a new twist on ringing in the new year, by walking or running it in instead in the ‘So Long 2020 presented by Capital One’ virtual event. In the new event, participants will complete a 5k on a course of their choosing any time on December 31, 2020, and proudly declare, “I Kicked 2020’s Asphalt,” as the calendar turns to 2021 at last. Registration is now open and can be done at www.sportsbackers.org.

The registration fee is $17, and includes the official event t-shirt with the “I Kicked 2020’s Asphalt” tagline, as well as a downloadable bib number and virtual event badge. Additional merchandise add-ons with the “I Kicked 2020’s Asphalt” tagline will be available during registration, including coffee mugs, pint glasses, and a hooded sweatshirt.

“At Capital One, we’re all about reimaging things, whether it’s banking or a new community event like this one,” said Andrew Winninger, Engage Lead for Capital One. “We’re excited to team up with Sports Backers to create an innovative and safe way for Richmond residents to pound the pavement and start off the new year on the right foot.”

Participants can register through December 31, 2020, then run or walk a 5k (3.1 miles) anywhere they want, while remembering to follow social-distancing guidelines. Participants can also submit their time through RunSignup, and are encouraged to share photos on social media by tagging @SportsBackers and using #SoLong2020 to make social distancing feel less isolating and join in the celebration of covering 3.1 on December 31.

“2020 has been a challenging year, and wasn’t what any of us expected, but we’ve also seen great resilience from so many people to stay committed to active living,” said Meghan Keogh, Director of Events for Sports Backers. “As part of our nonprofit mission to provide opportunities for people to stay healthy and stay strong, we’ve focused on creating a number of new events to keep people motivated. We’re looking forward to providing another chance for participants to get active and start 2021 on a positive, energetic note.”

More information on the ‘So Long 2020 presented by Capital One’ can be found at www.sportsbackers.org/events/so-long-2020-presented-by-capital-one/.

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