ALEXANDRIA, VA — Visit Alexandria took its annual meeting for members to the web on Wednesday, highlighting the resilience of businesses, hotels, the health department and city government in response to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A video from Visit Alexandria spotlighted small businesses and local initiatives was shown during the meeting. Del Ray’s Cheesetique was mentioned for providing 3,600 meals to hospitality workers impacted by the pandemic as well as Spice Kraft Indian Bistro for monthly meal donations to local organizations. On the retail side, Threadleaf was highlighted for adapting to encourage shopping and online engagement. Building Momentum received a nod for creating a quicker way to make face masks and a germ-killing robot. And as the Black Lives Matter movement strengthened, Alexandria Black History Museum Director Audrey Davis was mentioned for helping put Black Lives Matter in historical perspective and Manumission Tour Company for relaunching its Black history tours on Juneteenth. See the full video at the end of this post.
In remarks during the meeting, Mayor Justin Wilson praised businesses for helping competitor businesses while dealing their own challenges and supporting their employees.
“I have been inspired over the last six months to see the businesses in our community fight through the worst year they have ever seen, mustering their incredible creativity, their flexibility and their partnership,” said Wilson.
The virtual meeting, broadcast from the Westin Alexandria Old Town, also provided an overview of performance indicators surrounding tourism before and during the pandemic and Visit Alexandria’s strategies during the pandemic.
Patricia Washington, president and CEO of Visit Alexandria, noted the pandemic’s particular impact on the hospitality and tourism. Before the pandemic, hotel occupancy had been projected to grow from the last fiscal year. But instead, hotel occupancy fell to as low as 10 percent in April, normally a strong month with around 80 percent occupancy.
According to Virginia’s 2019 Economic Impact of Domestic Travel on Virginia and Localities report, spending from destination market visitors coming from more than 50 miles away was $881 million, producing $28.6 million in local tax revenues for Alexandria. The report also noted 6,595 jobs were supported by tourism in 2019.
But for the DC region as a whole in 2020, 125,000 of 275,000 hospitality jobs were lost in March and April, according to Washington. Since then, about 40,000 of those lost jobs have been recovered.
“We know that 2020 is going to look very different,” Washington said. “In fact, Labor Department statistics for the DC region show that after years of outpacing the regional average for job growth, the hospitality industry was the sector hit hardest by the coronavirus.”
The mayor also noted the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality industry, which he said represents about 7 percent of the city’s workforce. That in turn impacts city revenues. From February to July, the city had over $12 million less in revenue from consumption-based taxes when compared to the same time in 2019.
“Both financially, for our quality of life, for the spirit of our community, we need to recover,” said Wilson. “We need to get back. We need to make sure that visitation comes back to our city and that we support the jobs and quality of life that visitation provides for our community.”
As the pandemic prompted the start of closures in March, Visit Alexandria shifted its strategy to promote safe activities and ways to support Alexandria’s independent businesses. Five days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, Visit Alexandria launched ALX at Home, a resource with hundreds of ways to support businesses with to-go and at-home content. Visit Alexandria also held its annual Alexandria Summer Sidewalk Sale and Alexandria Restaurant Week with a to-go format.
In May, the Alexandria Health Department launched ALX Promise in partnership with Visit Alexandria. ALX Promise is a health and safety pledge for businesses with training provided by the health department. More than 400 businesses are participating in the voluntary program.
Aside from the pandemic, Visit Alexandria also responded to the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, working with Alexandria Black History Museum Director Audrey Davis on response strategies tied to the Juneteenth holiday. In addition, Visit Alexandria’s blog post 24 Black-Owned Businesses in Alexandria to Support Right Now is its most viewed post in 2020.
This article originally appeared on the Del Ray Patch