By Cory L. Higgs
In a typical year, Southwestern Virginia would be in the process of dusting off its work boots for the upcoming tourism season; however, the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown a wrench in that process.
To compound the problem, the Patrick County Board of Supervisors are considering increasing their take of the till to 40/60 split, with about $70,000 more Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenues to go into the county’s coffers to help make up a nearly $900,000 shortfall, according to Sandra Belcher, director of Patrick County Tourism.
Belcher noted that the U.S. Travel Association reported that as of April 4, non-essential travel and its related spending plummeted from $19.8 billion in March to $3.3 billion in April. USTA said that this is a near 85 percent loss from last year’s numbers.
The southern U.S. reportedly lost $21.1 billion in tourism revenue in the past five weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreaks, the region with the most significant loss in the United States. Virginia’s weekly traveling expense revenue on Feb. 15 was approximately $550 million every week, but as of April 4, that number is around $100 million weekly.
That represents a hefty blow, according to Belcher, who said the virus has devastated tourism nationwide, and Patrick County will feel the impact through a substantial drop in its TOT.
Belcher noted that currently, the tourism department keeps 80 percent and the county receives 20 percent of the influx.
The funds that tourism receives “don’t sit around for long. We spend them” by investing in projects in the various communities, Belcher said, adding the TOT tax brought in by tourism pays for many activities in the county.
With the impact of the virus, coupled with the proposal to take an additional revenues from the TOT, many of the “perks” tourism contributes to in the county will disappear, Belcher said.
“We will continue to abide by Virginia Code, which says we must market the county and our business, but the extra things we do will fall to the wayside, as we will no longer have the funding to do it all,” she said. “Some of the extra things we do will no longer have funding.”
Those extra things include paying for maintenance at county parks, backing projects like a broadband update and giving incentives to festivals that come to Patrick County.
Below is a list of expenses, contributions and budget requests for the tourism department.
Balance as of 3/31/20 = $181,548.86, Requested transfer 4/20/20 of $14,617.46 for March bills. Remaining Balance $166,931.40
Invoices released to be paid the end of April:
- $5,000 Final payment to Chamber for 2019-June2020
- $5,000 Floyd Fest Final payment
- $800 photographer/Kim
- $55 Port-A-John for Mayo River Rail Trail
- $6,154.42 for newly updated tourism brochures
- $100 WHEO Radio
- $1,990 Blue Ridge Country’s – Blue Ridge Parkway edition
- $315 Momenta
- $10,000 Website design (will be reimbursed)
- $8,395 Payroll
- $300 Google AdWords and Facebook boosts
$128,821.98 Remaining TOT Total
Commitments not yet paid:
- Broadband (portion of local match), $60,000
- Hurt & Profit Meadows of Dan Services for the last three years, $3,317.00
- FrontPorchFest, $12,000
- Blue Ridge Heritage, $5,000
- Patrick County Music Association Grant, $545.16
- Website Reservation System annual fee, $3,000
- Bluegrass Sponsorship, $3,000
- Cover Bridge 5K Race Sponsorship (postponed to October), $2,000
- Kibler Valley River Run Sponsorship, $2,000
Remaining TOT $37,959.82
This is the total for the remaining 2019-2020 year ending June 30.
In an email to department heads, Belcher said, “no funds will be distributed to our parks from the tourism office for the remaining 2019-2020 year (ending June 30). Depending on Tourism’s finances for the upcoming year (beginning July 1) there is a possibility that no funds to be dispersed.”
- Graphic Services, used only on an as needed basis.
- WHEO $100/month contribution, cancelled.
- Mural Trial Membership $150, withdrawn.
- Kim Rakes photography services and Instagram posts – put on hold.
- Broadband projects to remain on hold for up to three months per the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
A work session will be held April 27 to discuss the increase of the TOT the county will receive. The session will be live-streamed via the ‘Friends of Patrick County Tourism’ Facebook page and “The Enterprise” Facebook page.