Virginia Beach might see visitors all year round, thanks to a new plan

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(King Neptune statue at the Oceanfront in Virginia Beach, VA, photo by Judah Taylor)

(King Neptune statue at the Oceanfront in Virginia Beach)

One of the first things Brad Van Dommelen noticed when he moved to Virginia Beach from Traverse City, Mich. was the “seasonality” of the tourism.

Instead of staying in the city all year, visitors declined sharply after summertime. As director of the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, Van Dommelen sees a chance to change that.

“We have opportunities to kind of build a brand for Virginia Beach that takes us beyond being perceived in peoples’ minds as just a place to go for a beach town experience,” said Van Dommelen, who started in his position in April.

The city has a lot more to offer, like its restaurants and craft beer, that can be enjoyed year-round, he told Virginia Beach City Council Tuesday afternoon. He also noted that tourists don’t necessarily have to flock to the Oceanfront — they can go to Town Center for its dining, Sandbridge for a “remote” experience, Pungo for “agritourism” and the ViBe district for its “exciting” environment.

One of the ways to do that, he said Tuesday, is to add more than five full-time in-house positions that would focus on digital strategy, research, social media and a website. Those positions may be filled from within, but Van Dommelen said he’s definitely looking to expand the department. In order to compete with other markets and destinations, Van Dommelen said, the city needs to invest in “corporate-level” advertising.

“We need to be growing, and if we’re going to grow in our volume on a year-round basis, we need to invest more in developing our awareness,” he said. He’s not looking to seek extra funds, but to look at already-existing resources, he said.

In his presentation, he noted a number of positive trends this year, including an 8.1 percent jump in revenue from the Virginia Beach Convention Center, 1000 19th St., since 2015. Hotel occupancy in Virginia Beach rose 8.8 percent in June, 8.7 percent in July and 6 percent in August, compared to the same months in 2015, according to Smith Travel Research data. The year, to date, has seen 7.9 percent higher hotel occupancy than 2015. He also lauded the city’s management in the wake of Tropical Storm Hermine, like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.

Still, Van Dommelen noted some gaps, such as sports marketing, a headquarters hotel, a convention hotel and a resort management/special events office.

He plans on coming to City Council soon with more detailed plans.

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