MECKLENBURG — The Virginia Tourism Corporation has released 2021’s tourism visitation numbers. According to their research team Mecklenburg has seen another significant increase in its tourism visitation.

In 2021, there was a 38.6 percent increase in visitor spending bringing it from $72.6 million up to $100.7 million. There was also an increase in tourism-related jobs—we jumped from 682 to 746—and local tax revenue from $2.7 million to $3.7 million.

Mecklenburg County remains at the top of the pile for visitor spending with the city of Danville following close behind. 

Tourism Coordinator Tina Morgan provided the board with a five-year growth chart showing growth through the five years she’s been with Mecklenburg’s tourism department. There has been an overall 42 percent increase in tourism since 2017 even with the hiccup during 2020. Mecklenburg’s $100.7 million visitor spending in 2021 is it’s all-time high.

Since they don’t receive hard numbers from the state level, Morgan estimated how many visitors the County had in 2021 based on data given for visitor expenditures and surveys that reveal how much the average visitor spends. She arrived at nearly 500,000 visitors.

The Corps of Engineers and Occoneechee State Park provide real numbers, and based on those numbers campground visitation makes up nearly 40 percent of Mecklenburg’s visitors.

Morgan provided the board with a look at her marketing plan which includes a mix of print and digital advertising both in and out of market. She remarked that our top drive markets include Raleigh, Richmond, D.C., and Charlottesville. Mecklenburg County Tourism also participates in Virginia Welcome Center’s PMAP Program; their Visitor’s Guides are now in three Virginia Welcome Centers up and down the interstates as well as over a dozen more local visitor centers across the state.

Additionally, they run a series of Google ads and social campaigns that target people who are interested in outdoor recreation, food, craft beer, lake life, history, road trippers, wine lovers, etc. Their campaign message has remained the same for five years: “You’ll find more of what matters here in Mecklenburg.” Morgan pointed out that digital ads tend to bring approximately 8,000 visitors a month to the tourism website.

Morgan shared that to fill in any gaps left by digital and print media, she has set up the Visit Mecklenburg booth at local events and two out of market trips each year to reach crowds of people interested in the same things Mecklenburg has to offer. This year Morgan has already attended one such event, the largest RV show on the East Coast presented by the NCRV Dealers Association held in Raleigh. The event had a crowd of 6,000 on its busiest day. Morgan stated, “I was very busy. I had a lot of people who were interested in Mecklenburg County. A lot of RVers want to come here.”

The next out of town event she’s set up is Floyd Fest which usually draws a crowd between 10,000 and 15,000 each year. 

Currently, Mecklenburg County Tourism is sponsoring a takeover event at the VA Welcome Center in Bracey. Throughout March and April it’s businesses and attractions have the opportunity to set up promotional displays, tasting events, giveaways, and any other idea they have to promote their businesses at the Welcome Center at no cost to them.

Morgan shared that Mecklenburg County was recently awarded funding of $180,000 through the American Rescue Plan that was targeted towards tourism recovery. Each locality in the Commonwealth received funding based on it’s 2019 state tax revenue share related to tourism. Each locality has to submit a plan for the funding and have it approved by the third party firm that VTC hired. Mecklenburg’s plan was approved in December. 

A portion of the funding will go toward building Mecklenburg’s very first mural trail. After an RFP is finalized the funds will be distributed to each town which will then identify the location and work with artists to install a mural unique to its town. Morgan is in the process of writing the program description and RFP and will make an official announcement soon.

Another portion will go towards a facility improvement project for the town of Chase City to get public restrooms for the Pavilion’s event space.

Another part will go towards building and installing gateway signs at the county’s main entry points, something that it currently lacks. 

Part will go towards supporting a brand new annual fall event in South Hill designed to attract overnight visitors.

A portion will go towards a multi-day Urban Slide event in Clarksville. An urban slide—a 1,000 foot water slide—will be positioned on the hill from Hite’s down to the bridge August 11th and 12th. There will be three lanes of water slides and tubes for people to slide and have fun. The roads will be closed off during this time. Their expectation is that ticket sales and sponsors will support making this an annual event.

Finally, a portion will go towards marketing all of these new products and events as well as extending their current reach into new markets.