With tourism up, visitors center planned for downtown Christiansburg

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By Marty Gordon

Virginia’s tourism industry generated $26 billion in visitor spending across all communities in 2018, a 4.4 percent increase over 2017. Montgomery County also saw an increase during the same time period.

In fact, Virginia’s tourism industry has grown at a record level nine years in a row.

Christiansburg may well see its share of tourist revenue increase after a decision was made Tuesday evening to relocate the offices of the Montgomery Tourism Corporation (MTC) to downtown Christiansburg.

Lisa Bleakley, the executive director of the MTC, addressed the Christiansburg Town Council Tuesday evening about the county’s continuing surge in the tourist dollars spent here. She said she believed a visitors center in Christiansburg would attract even more tourist dollars to the town.

Recent local numbers show that tourism income in the area increased from $143.9 million in 2016 to $152 million in 2017 to $160.3 million this past year. Other numbers such as revenue from meals and lodging taxes also continued to grow.

“Tourism has a major impact on our area,” Bleakley said, and she expects that impact to grow in the county and in Christiansburg. “There is so much here for visitors to be attracted to,” the executive director told the council.

Tourists spent $71 million a day in Virginia in 2018. According to the U.S. Travel Association, tourist spending in Virginia reached $26 billion, up 4.4% from 2017. The travel industry in the Commonwealth has continued to grow nine years in a row with a compound annual growth rate of 4.3% since 2009.

Montgomery County’s most recent revenue numbers from tourists showed a 3.1 percent increase over 2015’s figures. Local hospitality and tourism jobs totaled 1,401, while local tourism-derived tax revenue reached just over $9 million in combined state and local taxes here.

“Tourism metrics for Montgomery County have steadily grown since the adoption of a strategic tourism marketing approach in 2013,” Bleakley told the council. “We have created many promotional tools with our visitors in mind. Most recently, a county-wide visitors guide was produced for distribution throughout the destination and beyond. We want it to be easy for our visitors to enjoy themselves, whether it be an outdoor adventure, arts and entertainment or simply a pleasant night’s sleep and a great meal in a beautiful setting.”

From January to September of this year, Christiansburg’s revenue from meals and lodging was $5.5 million from meals and $1.2 million from lodging. One percent of the collection was then paid to the Montgomery Tourism Corporation to market the area to visitors.

Bleakley is excited about the future for tourism in our area as the MTC adds items like court signage for winter sports at Virginia Tech, a new sports advisory group, a tourism summit and recent tours by the frontline people from the state’s welcome centers.

But one of the biggest moves on the way is the relocation of the MTC’s visitor center to downtown Christiansburg. The new visitors center will be housed in the Great Hall on Main, the former home of the Christiansburg Baptist Church.

“We have had great success with something similar in downtown Blacksburg and are excited about similar opportunities with one in downtown Christiansburg,” Bleakley said. “Visitors will now have a place to stop and gain information about the area.”

The relocation to and creation of a Christiansburg tourist center is on the fast track. The agreement for the move is expected to be signed by Monday, and the MTC office could relocate from the Montgomery County administration building to downtown Christiansburg by December 1.