VIRGINIA IS FOR … EVERYONE
“Virginia Is For Lovers’ may be one of travel’s most iconic and enduring slogans, but truth is, from history to adventure, culinary to culture, and mountains to famous beaches and undiscovered coastal towns, the state has so much going on, it really is for Everyone.
Indeed, Virginia truly has it all, says Bri Bélanger-Warner, the Commonwealth’s Canadian marketing specialist, and as such is a destination that deserves more attention than just a drive-through for Canadians on their way to Florida or other southern climes, even during the winter.
Approximately, eight hours by car from Toronto and nine from Montreal to the northern border of the state, Canadians can also fly into Washington DC, whose two main airports (Dulles, Reagan) are actually in Virginia. Several carriers serve the DC airports, including Air Canada and Porter (from Toronto Billy Bishop).
“The proximity to eastern Canada is so great that you can reach the state within a day’s drive, and then, for example be on the golf course the next morning,” says Bélanger-Warner. “In the wintertime, you don’t have to drive all the way to South Carolina or Florida. We want people to realize, ‘Oh, right, Virginia! It’s closer than many of those other places, and all those activities are doable.”
Certainly, tourism types in Virginia also welcome the notion of Canadian snowbirds staying for a few days enroute to or from their destination, and Bélanger-Warner notes than more than a few do – especially on their way home.
“Absolutely we try to say, ‘plan this into your itinerary,’” she says. “Stop, get off I-81 or I-95 and venture a little bit, there are so many great places to see and so much to do that I would hope that snowbirds would spend a few days with us and dare to go off the main road.”
And while Spring is the usual time of year for returning snowbirds to stop in, Bélanger-Warner is quick to point out that Virginia is a year-round destination with moderate winters that rarely see snow. Spring starts early (by Canadian standards), marked by spectacular dogwood and cherry blossoms, and the peak summer is sizzling – ideal for a trip to the beach – though naturally air-conditioned at higher altitudes in the mountains.
And “for those with travel flexibility,” autumn means harvest and amazing fall colours, water that is still warm enough for swimming, and fewer crowds and reduced prices for accommodations. Dogs are even allowed on the beach after Labour Day, Bélanger-Warner notes, adding, “If you can come between Labour Day and a late October, you can have a completely different experience.”
Approximately 500,000 Canadians visit Virginia annually, making this country the state’s top international market. Well-known visitor highlights include Virginia Beach, UNESCO-rated Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s historic estate), Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), Historic Jamestown (first British colony in the US), Shenandoah State Park (including Skyline Drive and the Blueridge Parkway), and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
But visitors will also discover great local food (oysters, peanuts!) and a thriving wine, cider, and craft beer scene, including themed trails. There’s also all the adventures and active opportunities that goes with being geographically bookended by the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay on the east and the Appalachian Mountains in the west (read on in this newsletter for more on these subjects).
“There are so many things that people can see throughout the state,” says Virginia’s Canadian rep. “Not to be cliché,” she says, “but if you like a specific type of activity, or you’re a history buff, or more of a beach fan, you can find it all in Virginia.”
Indeed, Virginia is for…
• History buffs: Virginia has been called the “Birthplace of a Nation,” but many are not aware of the historic events that took place there in 1619 (when the first elected assembly in the New World was convened), 12 years after the first colonists settled in Jamestown. Visitors can learn about the great leaders of the country at one of the eight estates of former US presidents, visit the grounds of a Virginia battlefield, uncover the true stories of some of Virginia’s most important residents at a heritage site, and tour all three fascinating destinations along the Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown). From revolutionary to civil wars, even WWII, Bélanger-Warner says, “There are so many places to visit that are absolutely amazing. Everywhere you go, there’s a historical site.”
• Small-town charm: The phrase “small town” evokes nostalgia, authenticity, and heartfelt warmth. They are authentic, accessible, friendly, and stocked with locally owned businesses. These are communities where travellers can get off the crowded highway, park the car and walk, ride a bike, or even kayak through downtown, and get to know the locals.
• Culture vultures: Easily worth a couple or three days, a visit to the capital Richmond includes the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which features more than 22,000 modern and contemporary works; the Edgar Allan Poe museum; “adorable, fun” Carytown, home to quirky shops and restaurants; and a burgeoning culinary scene that is popping up on plenty of top 10 lists, plus great breweries and cider houses.
• Families: Family-friendly isn’t just a trendy buzzword in Virginia, the Commonwealth boasts wide-ranging family fun activities for moms, dads, kids, and everyone else to get together and spend quality vacation time. Thrill-seekers and the young-at-heart can get their fill of adventure at world-class, coaster-packed theme parks, or cool their jets at any number of major water parks.
• Luxury travel: Distinctly elegant and historically relevant, luxury lovers can immerse themselves in a historic experience unlike anywhere else. Centuries-old architecture reimagined for today’s guests welcomes visitors in settings from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the salty shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Rejuvenating spas, world-renowned golf, and once-in-a-lifetime epicurean experiences await on a Virginian visit.
• Music heritage: Virginia is hailed as the birthplace of country music (a museum in Bristol proudly tells the tale), and is home to Bluegrass and old-time legends, and contemporary virtuosos. The sounds of country music beat especially strong in Southwest Virginia, connected by The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, which winds through almost 500 km of scenic terrain, including 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns. Music festivals abound throughout the year, including the annual Rhythm and Roots fest in Bristol (Sept. 9-11, 2022). Insider tip: Don’t miss the Old Time and Bluegrass music jams in the Country Store in Floyd, a free weekly event every Sunday from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
• Pet lovers: More and more travellers are taking their pets along for the trip and many places in Virginia are now accommodating – hotels and campgrounds, state parks, outdoor shopping centres, tourist attractions, and outdoor events – so that four-legged friends can feel part of the fun. Many of Virginia’s wineries and breweries also allow dogs on their patios or designated outdoor areas.
• Pride: Since 1969, Virginia’s famous state slogan has inspired travellers from all over the world to visit the Commonwealth. Virginia is also a welcoming destination for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender families, couples, and friends. A dedicated microsite at virginia.org lists self-designated, LGBT-friendly events, lodging, dining, shopping, attractions, and outdoor experiences, statewide. The website also includes meeting spaces, itineraries and all the resources needed to plan a dream wedding or honeymoon. Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the state since 2014.
• Film fanatics: Film fans can go “on location” in Virginia at various sites where movies and television shows have been made. Just a few of Virginia’s productions include “Dirty Dancing,” Lincoln,” “Harriet,” AMC’s “TURN,” “Homeland,” and “Mercy Street.”
However, no matter the interest, a visit to Virginia exudes Americana and is connected by authentic local charm.
“That’s one thing that is very cool about Virginia,” enthuses Bélanger-Warner. “People are so welcoming and friendly – they want to share their life… That is what you get in Virginia, something very authentic. We’re not as touristy a destination as other (places) might be. But wherever you go you’ll meet locals who are friendly and welcoming. And, hopefully, you’ll leave with a desire to come back…”
What’s new in accommodation
• The historic Liberty Trust building in downtown Roanoke has re-opened as the new boutique Liberty Trust Hotel. The property preserves some of the building’s original architectural details, including the historic bank’s safe, which will factor into the property’s design.
• A new AKA luxury property will open in July in Old Town Alexandria. Designed for longer stays, AKA balances the space and comfort of a fully appointed luxury apartment with the style and hospitality of an intimate hotel.
• Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards in Bristol has opened the Nicewonder Inn. This 28-room luxury boutique inn boasts inviting common areas, a world-class culinary and wine program, and beautifully appointed rooms, all overlooking some of the most beautiful scenery on property. For a twist, visitors can book a yurt. And golf is available at sister property, The Virginian.
• Casino resorts are coming to Virginia. Late 2022/early 2023 will see the opening of a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Bristol, the official Birthplace of Country Music, and Ceasars Entertainment will open a casino resort in Danville in late 2023. Two more casinos are approved and in the planning stages to open in 2023, Headwaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk and Rivers Casino Portsmouth.
• Key West Cottages at Chincoteague Bay is anticipating an early summer grand opening. They are adding 33 additional cottages, a pool, a waterfront beach on the bay and a lobby/reception location. There will be opportunities for boat docking, paddle boarding, kayaking, yoga, and event options such as retreats and weddings.
• Historic Orlesa Farms, previously a top ranked bed and breakfast and wedding venue, re-opened in November after undergoing a restructuring process to become Shenandoah Valley’s newest luxury lodge and wedding/event venue.
First published at Travel Industry Today