Lynchburg Region Poised to Keep Pace with Growing State Tourism Revenues

As temperatures rise, Lynchburg and the surrounding region are gearing up for increased tourism due to a variety of recent developments. From state level competitions using the Hill City as a landing zone to continued downtown revitalization, tourism stakeholders believe the area is poised for sustained growth this year and beyond.

And with these developments on the horizon, Lynchburg is primed to keep pace with the rest of the state; according to a press release from Governor McAuliffe on May 8, 2017, “Virginia’s tourism industry had another banner year in 2016 as we welcomed a record number of visitors and significantly outpaced the national growth rate.” Virginia enjoyed a revenue increase of 3.3 percent compared to the national average of 2.7 percent.

Many of the reasons Governor McAuliffe cited for Virginia’s appeal are represented also in the greater Lynchburg region: “natural beauty, booming culinary scene, exciting outdoor recreation offerings, rich history, and [a] robust arts culture.”

Also representative of the local region is that Virginia saw the “largest increase in travel expenditures in food and lodging sectors,” sectors mimicked in local growth as well.

Lynchburg’s burgeoning downtown district has been largely bolstered by new restaurant openings and hotel development. “The growth of downtown and the clustering of restaurants and cultural amenities—plus the trails and the river—we can sell this as a whole package or experience,” said Anna Bentson, Assistant Director for Economic Development in the City of Lynchburg.

The significance of this cultural hub is one that cannot be ignored says the Downtown Lynchburg Association’s Executive Director Ashley Kershner. “No matter the reason for their visit, tourists to the Lynchburg area often find themselves in downtown, and that experience becomes their impression of the City as a whole.”

Todd Swindell, Hotel Director at the Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center, echoes these sentiments: “Tourism in Lynchburg is primed and ready—successful already, but we are only just beginning…The downtown area is growing rapidly and has some of the best restaurants in the area.”

Swindell says the Craddock Terry “centers around its history as a shoe factory building,” capitalizing on one of Lynchburg’s strongest offerings—its storied past. “We provide a certain luxury and comfort, mixed with a little bit of fun,” he said. “When you come to the Craddock Terry Hotel, you’re going to have an experience.”

Swindell believes that Lynchburg has a lot to offer the Millennial generation, which puts a high priority on travel. “They tend to love unique destinations and experiences; [k]eeping on trend and up-to-date with technology will be the necessary effort for attracting this group,” he said.

Adding to this year’s influx of visitors will be the Virginia Commonwealth Games, the largest multi-sports festival in the state, which will be hosted in Lynchburg for the second year in a row; it routinely draws more than 10,000 athletes and has an estimated economic impact of $2.5 million on average.

“We’ve worked closely with Liberty University on sports tourism due to the facilities they have,” Bentson said. “It’s a good mix; we bring in the lodging industry and city facilities; it all involves a lot of partnerships and collaboration.” Bentson says they are also celebrating the recent bid they won to host the State Games of America in 2019—the highest level of competition following the Commonwealth Games.

The power of regional collaborations is one key to continued visitor engagement and attraction.

Angela Lynch, Associate Director of Marketing for the National D-Day Memorial, believes these partnerships are crucial for successful tourism efforts because “[c]ity limits and county lines don’t stop tourists; we can only benefit from working together.” Lynch cites a popular ticket pairing the Memorial has done with Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest since 2012 as an example of a regional partnership. Using these “allows both sites to capitalize from [their] close proximity for visitors interested in history.”

Bentson has also seen the benefits in a variety of collaborations. “From a regional perspective, visitors can stay in our funky downtown but still have access to the Appalachian Trail, breweries, the Blue Ridge Parkway, etc. So we’re focused on developing itineraries for those visitors,” Bentson said.

“Our region offers a tremendous amount of varied experiences to visitors,” Lynch said. “We want [visitors] to go home and tell their friends about the moving experience they had at the D-Day Memorial and how nice our town and region are…[which] are high value, high quality; we can feel good about recommending them to our guests.”

Efforts to bolster regional collaboration and develop more efficient processes have led to the merger of the Lynchburg City tourism department with the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development; the transition is expected to yield a restructured city department with freshly defined goals and strategies.

Speaking of the merger, Bentson said, “Our goals are the same: to sell the city of Lynchburg and to grow tourism-based businesses that can help strengthen the region as a whole.”

Bentson says city officials hope to have everything in place by the end of this year, adding that many municipalities house tourism and economic development under one umbrella.

The newly rebranded Downtown Lynchburg Association (DLA), formerly Lynch’s Landing, is another sign of renewed efforts to fine tune local tourism efforts. The non-profit will also be introducing several new events and community collaborations throughout 2017 including the Lynchburg Food Fest, Deck the Hills, and Pop-Up Lynchburg. Additionally, the organization is working closely with the city on launching a new way-finding system throughout the downtown district, an effort Kershner says should yield “bright, attractive, flexible, easy-to-read, and consistent” signage, a result that should make the area even easier for out-of-town guests to navigate. The DLA is also focused on growing cultural events such as First Fridays, which they recently acquired management of, and the annual Get Downtown street festival, which draws thousands of visitors to Main Street every September.

Finally, several long-term projects are moving ever closer to completion, which should provide an additional surge of tourism revenue. The Virginian is slated to have renovations completed by the end of 2017 while the historic Academy Theatre is also closing in on final restorations. Both locations are historic icons—one that will be transformed into a boutique hotel offering eateries and conference space, the other a center for the arts and traveling shows and performers. They represent the main strengths of Lynchburg, this region and the state as a whole—building on historic foundations for the visitors of today and tomorrow.

Swindell is among those excited to see what the future holds, partly because he’s seen similar efforts find success over the past seven years that he’s worked with the Craddock Terry Hotel. “Developers are renovating buildings once derelict and making fabulous restaurants and shops.
We haven’t peaked yet, but we’re closer every day.” He adds, “If we embrace the tourism industry, continue synergizing efforts, and welcoming visitors, we will reap the rewards.” ‘

By Jennifer Redmond