Valley Tourism Gets Significant Boost From Lt. Governor

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (center) presents a check to Bart Wilner (to Bolling’s right), President of the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Center as Roanoke Mayor David Bowers (Bolling’s left) and other leaders of the five localities that partnered with the Convention & Visitors Bureau look on. (Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, Botetourt County, and Franklin County.) Tourism accounts for over 7000 jobs and brings more than $600 million a year to the Roanoke Valley.

by Beverley Amsler

Tourism is big business in Virginia, supporting more than 200,000 jobs and providing $17.1 billion in annual revenue statewide.  It also accounts for 7000 plus jobs and brings $600 million a year just in the Roanoke Valley.

Roanoke Valley officials hope to see those figures grow, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation Marketing Leverage Program.  Lt. Governor Bill Bolling was on hand this past Monday (Aug. 29) to present Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Center President Bart Wilner with the check.

“It’s important for us to promote the tourism opportunities that exist all across Virginia. Certainly this effort to promote the Blue Ridge Mountains is going to be fantastic – and it’s going to bring more people into the area,” said Bolling. “They’re going to be staying in hotels; they’re going to be shopping in shops; they’re going to be eating in restaurants.”

“It’s all about creating jobs,” said Bolling. “We’re just excited to be a partner in the effort [and] we thank the Roanoke Convention & Visitors Bureau for putting this program together, [and] the local governments for supporting it.  It’s a delight for us to pitch in and be a part of it.”

Bolling said “tourism is economic development” and part of the McDonnell administration’s economic development strategy.  In fact, during the past 19 months, state support for tourism has increased 30 percent, according to the Lt. Governor. The grant money will be used for a new website and marketing campaign to increase awareness of the Blue Ridge Mountains and to encourage travel to the area.

Area partners will kick in $110,000 to match it.  Those partners include Roanoke City, Roanoke County, the City of Salem, Botetourt County, and Franklin County Commerce and Leisure Services.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation Marketing Leverage Program awards approximately $1.4 million a year, and the Roanoke Valley’s grant was one of the three largest awards given this year, according to Bolling.

“I think it speaks to the quality of the grant proposal that was put in,” he said at a news conference. “I know a lot of work went into this at the local level.  There’s a lot of commitment and dedication to this project from organizations like the Roanoke Convention & Visitors Bureau, all of the local governments, and some private sector partners as well. You have that type of local enthusiasm; you [also] have a great product to offer, like the Blue Ridge Mountains. It helps elevate this project and it helps distinguish [it] from lots of the other great applications that we received from across the state. “

Bolling gave credit to “everyone involved in the process.” Roanoke Mayor David Bowers told the crowd gathered at the Taubman Museum for the grant presentation about his dream for tourism. “About 23 years ago I was running for City Council and when I talked about Roanoke being competitive with Asheville and Knoxville and Chattanooga as a tourism site, there was actually a snicker in the audience [as in] ‘oh, are you kidding—coming to Roanoke?’ But look what we’ve done in promoting ourselves so far with this good team [that’s come] together.”

Bowers had high praise for Wilner (who owns Entre Computer), executive director Landon Howard and others at the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Center. “Let me say to the Ashevilles and the Chattanoogas and the Knoxvilles of the world, ‘you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.’  Roanoke’s going to give you a run for your money and we’re going to make sure that we use this money from the Commonwealth wisely, to encourage more tourists to come to Roanoke.”

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