The Business of Tourism in Coastal Virginia

by Ryan Miller

Do we blame tourists for traffic delays on the HRBT during summer? Maybe. Do we shy away from the Oceanfront certain times of the year to avoid the crowds? You bet. Do we rely on tourism to strengthen our economy, up the standards of our schools and better our overall quality of life? Absolutely.

Tourism may have its minor annoyances, but it’s an industry that makes a major impact in Coastal Virginia. It’s a $4.3 billion dollar industry in our region, creating 42,000 direct jobs and accounting for 20 percent of total state tourism expenditures, according to a 2015 report from the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance. From there, it’s a domino effect, with tourism dollars strengthening our communities and creating jobs. And finally, there’s the standard of living that we, admittedly, take for granted sometimes. On any given weekend we can reach the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean, ride a thrilling coaster at Busch Gardens, slurp oysters on the Eastern Shore, take the family to a museum or experience one of the many festivals our area offers.

So, how is tourism faring in each individual city, and what new developments can we look forward to in the upcoming year? To find these answers and more, we contacted 10 local tourism leaders who shared the ways in which they’re marketing their city or region, the challenges they’re facing, which other tourism markets they consider to be competition and how they’re working together to boost tourism for our region as a whole. And in this case, it really is important to consider the region as one since, as several tourism leaders noted, tourists don’t see the boundaries from city to city nor realize when they cross over from one city to the next. For them, it’s all part of their overall vacation experience, and for us, well, it’s worth fighting the crowds every once in awhile.

We’re taking a look at the effects of tourism on Coastal Virginia’s economy, community and quality of life—and what new developments will strengthen this thriving industry.


Chesapeake is using storytelling to bring visitors to the city, with a brand promise to get people to connect to the great outdoors, experience unique shopping and experience the dining scene. Companies such as Dollar Tree and LTD Hospitality Group are also expanding and strengthening tourism to the area with hotel updates and development plans in Chesapeake.

Eastern Shore

The Eastern Shore is working on building the shoulder markets to drive younger visitors with ourdoor recreation and marketing features such a story blog, new website, social media and more. Cape Charles Brewing Co. happens to be just one of the new projects being developed to attract tourism.


Portsmouth is continuing its efforts to focus on its five city-owned museums and major festivals and events to gather interest for its tourism. This summer the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum will reopen and appeal to those who love history.


Exciting things are coming to Norfolk that are sure to be game-changers for the tourism industry, including the addition of the newly opened Hilton hotel The Main and the redeveloped Waterside District. Tourism for Norfolk is one of the city’s three pillars for local economy, as it supports restaurants, hotels and other businesses.


Thriving in niche markets, Suffolk is focusing on its independent eateries as well as eco-tourism relying heavily on The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The city approaches tourism with a development mindset, as its able to help produce events, activities and festivals that enhance citizens’ quality of life.

Smithfield & Isle of Wight

While taking a new advertising approach with a mobile responsive website, Smithfield & Isle of Wight is also emphasizing the outdoors and agriculture to draw tourists with Windsor Castle Park Natural Playscape and The Salty Southern Route Tour. Tourism is an important part of the area too, as many of the local shops, restaurants and attractions rely on visitors to make or break business.

Newport News

One way Newport News is working on tourism is with their regional beer, wine and spirits trail, Toast the Coast, bringing visitors to the area. Tourism is an economic generator bringing in tax revenues for the city on the peninsula, creating jobs and also enhancing the quality of life for residents.


From a new museum, to roller coaster, to brewery, Williamsburg has plenty going on to ensure that tourists keep visiting. The city is currently running a campaign to emphasize the Freedom to Have Fun, especially for families that look to the area as a vacation destination.


Currently the city of Hampton has several projects underway for additional on-site development that will continue to drive tourists. Two new breweries, Fort Monroe, and the Hampton Roads Convention Center also big helps for the industry, as interest in these venues continues to grow.

Virginia Beach

Visitor spending has generated billions of dollars for Virginia Beach, and as a result its supported thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in state and local taxes. Visitors can focus on culinary elements, craft beer, culture, outdoor recreation, history and more for an exciting experience in the world’s largest resort city.

Related Posts

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept

Privacy & Cookies Policy