Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the meeting and events industry in Hampton Roads and across the country.
With entire venues shuttered, conferences were delayed, canceled or held online. The economic impact from the events was essentially erased.
More than two years later, Hampton Roads is getting some help from the federal government in attracting conferences, sporting events and meetings back to the area. The region recently received about $567,000 in federal relief grants targeted toward sports marketing and meeting and convention uses, including more than $360,000 for events in Virginia Beach.
Virginia Tourism Corp. administered the program from last year’s federal $50 million appropriation to help the state’s tourism industry. The state agency awarded $1.45 million to 83 events across Virginia. The events will have an estimated total economic impact of more than $53 million. Hampton Roads landed 39% and Virginia Beach landed a quarter of the grant funding.
Those meetings and conferences are a vital part of the Virginia Beach tourism sector, said Erin Goldmeier, spokesperson for the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
“We have folks who will come here for conferences and meetings,” Goldmeier said. “They’re spending money in the restaurants, and they’re spending money in the city, essentially.”
Virginia Beach was awarded 22 meeting grants and four more sports marketing grants, going toward a variety of events — everything from an NCAA indoor track and field championship to a meeting of the International Association of Marine Investigators. The city landed a $90,000 grant for its recently announced Jackalope Fest coming in June 2023 where athletes compete or demonstrate in high adrenaline sports like skateboarding, BMX, bouldering, break dancing and BASE jumping.
The marine investigators conference, which will be held in 2024, was awarded $5,000. The International Association of Auto Theft Investigators is coming in 2023 and was also awarded $5,000. For both of those events, Goldmeier said the grants will exclusively cover food and drink costs at the events, citing inflation. Over the past 12 months, the price of food has increased around 11%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
VisitNorfolk, the city’s destination marketing organization, received a $20,000 grant to help with the ECHL minor league hockey league’s All-Star Classic game. The funding will be used on facility rental fees, advertising and media buys, event production and technical expenses, said Kurt Krause, VisitNorfolk president and CEO.
Business news for the Hampton Roads region
Norfolk and Hampton Roads fared better than much of the country when meeting and event traffic was cut off, Krause said, because the region continued to successfully market itself toward leisure travelers looking to head to the beach or other outdoor activities.
After a dismal 2020, Krause said the city actually beat 2019 metrics in 2021 in areas like the number of visitors and hotel occupancy.
“We did well,” Krause said “We did really well.”
Krause also noted the all-star game is expected to bring in $700,000 in total economic impact.
Other notable grants included: $30,000 for USA Artistic Swimming’s Junior Olympics in Hampton, $28,000 for a baseball tournament and collegiate showcase and $35,000 for eastern National Softball Association girls’ fast-pitch World Series events in Williamsburg and $45,000 for a 2024 African American Travel Conference, $12,800 for an assisted living conference and $10,000 for an Eastern Diocese Youth Conference in Chesapeake.
Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, firstname.lastname@example.org
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