|By Michael Buettner, The Progress-Index,
Petersburg, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 19, 2009--Tourist spending in the Tri-Cities has grown by more than a third over the past five years, and Colonial Heights has been setting the pace with an eye-catching three-fourths increase in travelers' dollars, according to the latest figures from the Virginia Tourism Corp.
Travelers spent a total of $533 million in the area's six localities in 2008, an increase of 42 percent from 2003. Excluding Chesterfield County, where the figures were increased by spending in the Richmond suburbs, the Tri-Cities reaped $164 million in tourist spending last year, up 37 percent from five years before.
Prince George County was the biggest beneficiary of traveler spending outside Chesterfield, pulling in $63 million in tourist spending, largely through its concentrations of hotels and restaurants along Interstate 95 and I-295.
Colonial Heights saw the second-highest total, $29 million. It also posted the biggest percentage increase over the past five years, 75 percent, as hoteliers added hundreds of rooms in the area around Southpark Mall.
"There have been three new hotels opening" in the past couple of years, noted Bonnie Kirby, retail development coordinator in the Colonial Heights Economic Development Department. "That certainly contributes."
In addition, Kirby said, "We have opened a few new restaurants and we are seeing a lot of traffic from Fort Lee. We're in a good position regionally, and we have the most retail in the region. That helps, too."
Colonial Heights' growth in tourist spending came at the expense of other local jurisdictions. The city's share of the regional market climbed to 18 percent last year from 14 percent in 2003 while the four other localities saw their market share decline.
Petersburg's share of the market fell the most, 2.6 percentage points, but the city retained its No. 3 ranking last year with a total $40 million in spending by travelers. Hopewell followed with $20 million and Dinwiddie County with $12 million.
For the region as a whole, excluding Chesterfield, spending by tourists contributed the equivalent of $1,200 per area resident to the economy, up 34 percent from $898 in 2003. Prince George led the region in per-resident tourism spending at $1,751, followed by Colonial Heights at $1,658, Petersburg at $1,204, Hopewell at $856 and Dinwiddie at $445.
Statewide, domestic travelers spent $19.2 billion in Virginia last year, up 38 percent from five years before.
Spending per resident statewide amounted to $2,474, a figure that was boosted by big spending in some small counties. For example, Bath County, site of the high-end Homestead resort but with a population of just 38,000, saw per-resident spending of $49,671, the highest in the state.
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