Virginia Beach’s tourism strategy: Excite millennials, promote winter visits

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Bran Van Dommelen

(From left to right) Virginia Beach Hotel Association President Joe DaBiero, Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Director Brad Van Dommelen and Director of Public Relations Tiffany Russell discuss the impact of a recent tourism advertising evaluation study Thursday afternoon. (Mariah Pohl/Southside Daily)

Virginia Beach may be known for its sprawling beaches and vibrant oceanfront, but the city’s advertising committee is looking to excite potential vacationers about even more than that.

The city council-appointed committee meets once a month to make recommendations to the Director of the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) regarding strategies designed to foster the growth of tourism within the city.

During a meeting Thursday, the committee discussed how the local tourism industry continues to compete with neighbors like Myrtle Beach, Ocean City, the Outer Banks, and Coastal Carolina.

According to data collected by tourism research firm Longwoods International, Virginia Beach had the highest occupancy as well as the largest growth in occupancy — up 6 percent from 2015 to 84.5 percent — when matched against the competition in August 2015.

Longwoods International also provided information about a recent advertising campaign conducted by the CVB. The study used a sample size of 1,400 participants to measure the awareness and willingness of potential tourists to travel to Virginia Beach. The campaign cost a total of $2,445,796 and resulted in more than 1,383,000 incremental trips, and $166 million in visitor spending.

“Every dollar invested on the Virginia Beach ad campaign generated $67.84 in visitor spending and $3.44 in tax revenue for the benefit of our residents,” CVB director Brad Van Dommelen said. “Now that we know what our return is, we have a much better story to tell when pushing the growth of tourism.”

As the city increases tourism goals, Van Dommelen hopes to create a more comprehensive brand and city identity.

“We have to decide who we want to be, how we want to be thought of, and how we want to get there,” he said. “The failure of the light rail has had a huge impact on the view of Virginia Beach. Branding this city will be an ongoing process, and we need to make sure the community is on board.”

As part of some new branding efforts, the CVB recently launched a winter tourism initiative to educate newcomers about the year-round activities available in Virginia Beach, including whale-watching, horseback riding on the beach to and the local art and brewery scenes.

Gaining the attention and interest of millennials is also a pivotal goal, and an area where Virginia Beach is falling short according to many city leaders.

A map of Virginia Beach showcases all that the city has to offer. (Courtesy of Visit Virginia Beach Instagram)

A map of Virginia Beach showcases what the city has to offer. (Courtesy of Visit Virginia Beach Instagram)

“We’ve dedicated a significant part of our budget towards attracting millennials and are looking for ways to showcase things that will resonate with them,” Tiffany Russell, public relations director, said. “They are a generation that is constantly sharing, so what does that mean for us? It means we need to deliver an experience that exceeds their expectations so they will shout about it.”

So what types of branding initiatives can Virginia Beach residents expect to start seeing?

“We’ve started working with digital influencers who go out and share their experiences to offer another point of view of Virginia Beach,” Russell said. “We’re working with a lot of locals and business owners to share their stories in unique ways, which you’ll start seeing over the next few months.”

“Are we Instagram worthy? Yes. But we also have to be authentic to who we are,” she added.”It’s not about telling people to come here; it’s first about creating inspiration.”

Pohl may be reached at mariah@localvoicemedia.com 

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