The Business of Tourism: Suffolk

by Ryan Miller

Answers provided by Theresa Earles, Tourism Development Manager for Suffolk Tourism

How is your market doing in terms of yearly revenue, year/year hotel occupancy and year/year RevPAR?
The Suffolk hotel inventory continues to grow. In the Downtown area of Suffolk, last year we saw the opening of a new Hampton Inn and Suites along the Route 10 corridor, which serves as a complement to the nearby Holiday Inn Express and overflow for the downtown Hilton Garden Riverfront and Suffolk Conference Center. Northern Suffolk hotels are also reporting increased occupancy, and we are experiencing renewed interest in new hotel facilities.

What new projects/developments or changes in business practices are coming in the next year and beyond? How will these projects/developments impact visitation?
We are excited to see the long-awaited redevelopment of Bennett’s Creek Marina as Brian and Teresa Mullins (the same visionaries who brought Vintage Tavern and River Stone Chophouse to Suffolk) completely overhaul the waterfront site. The $8 million project features eight waterfront acres that will include Decoys Restaurant (seafood) and Blind Dog Tiki Bar, the Bennett’s Creek Marina and the Landings at Bennett’s Creek residences. The marina is expected to have 54 slips available upon completion, encouraging patrons to arrive by land or by sea.

What new advertising/marketing focuses are you implementing?
Suffolk thrives in niche markets. For instance, Suffolk is home to amazing independent eateries with award-winning chefs and cuisine. We focus on marketing our culinary assets via our Spring and Fall Suffolk Restaurant Weeks— now in the 10th year—along with the annual Taste of Suffolk Downtown Street Festival, and even more recently, our Suffolk Culinary Crawls.

Other niche markets for Suffolk include eco-tourism relying heavily on The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Bennett’s Creek Park & Marina and Lone Star Lakes.

And 2017 marks the fourth year for the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival. This literary event is designed for readers, writers and mystery fans to meet best-selling authors of mystery, suspense, romance, paranormal, horror and women’s fiction.

What are your largest challenges and obstacles? Who is your competition?
Suffolk’s greatest asset may very well be its greatest challenge—our size. With 430 square miles, Suffolk offers a blend of urban and rural, as well as historic and modern. Without having indisputably defining attractions such as the oceanfront or the historic triangle, it’s imperative for Suffolk’s array of quirky and quaint amenities and outdoor treasures to maintain a foothold in Coastal Virginia. We recognize how lucky we are to be located within easy driving distance from our neighboring cities as our regional attractions offer even more reasons to visit Suffolk. 

What does tourism mean to the City of Suffolk? How does it affect local taxes, and how does it affect our quality of life? How does it help drive our local economy, jobs and the quality of our schools and education system?
Suffolk Tourism is a division of our city’s Economic Development Department. We approach tourism not just from a marketing and sales perspective but from a development mindset. We produce events, activities and festivals designed to enhance our citizens’ quality of life while simultaneously appealing to visitors. We work with local businesses on marketing programs and incentives. Suffolk Tourism also operates a year-round tour program, offering six different tours that attract locals and visitors alike. Revenue generated from admission, meals and lodging taxes support Suffolk’s General Fund which, in turn, funds core services such as education, fire, police, etc. According to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, in 2015 Suffolk’s visitors spent $67.7 million and generated $2,061,595 in local tax receipts and $3,777,626 in state taxes. Steady growth in Suffolk’s tourism equates to new development of product for locals and visitors to enjoy as Suffolk becomes more appealing to entrepreneurs, developers, relocating families and future employers.

Do you feel that the cities of Coastal Virginia sufficiently work together to boost tourism? If not, how do you think that the relationships among cities could improve?
The best way our Coastal Virginia cities can help each other is by continuing to improve and grow our individual products, enhance our events and attractions and overall hospitality. While locals may view our individual cities as “rivals,” really we are complementary destinations for travelers that offer a vast variety of experiences within convenient proximity of one another. The average visitor does not recognize the invisible boundaries between cities, and it is our region’s collective tourism product that appeals to leisure and business travelers. Our CVBs and tourism offices meet regularly and work together whenever possible

How does Suffolk work with other regional partners to sell the region to visitors?
Suffolk works with other Coastal Virginia entities, whether it’s cooperative advertising, promoting “Thank the Visitor Day” during National Travel and Tourism Week or by organizing familiarization tours for travel writers meeting in neighboring Portsmouth. We frequently work with nearby Smithfield to cross-promote our festivals and events.

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