NORFOLK -- Virginia needs to do more to promote its tourist attractions to keep ahead of other states trying to lure vacationers, say travel industry officials attending an annual convention.
"It's a highly competitive market," C. Holt Maloney, incoming president of the Virginia Travel Council, said this week. "All the Sun Belt states are just so aggressive."
The council, an association of travel-related businesses around the state, wants the General Assembly to allocate more money for tourism promotion, he said.
More than 200 travel industry officials are meeting at the Omni International Hotel this week in the first joint convention of the council and the state Division of Tourism.
The meeting comes after a mixed summer season for tourism, the second largest industry in Virginia.
"I was a little disappointed in the overall travel picture in Virginia this year," said Maloney, who directs marketing for Luray Caverns.
Attendance lagged at Colonial Williamsburg, the state's most popular attraction, but Virginia Beach benefited from hotter-than-normal temperatures and experienced a 13 percent jump in business in June and July over last year.
The state has seen an overall increse of about 4 percent in tourism business this year, said Patrick McMahon, director of the state tourism division. "We've had a lot of smaller communities do very well. Our wine country was doing very well this summer," he said. "People are starting to realize we are the third-largest wine-producing state."
At Colonial Williamsburg, spokesman Albert O. Louer blamed the weather for a roughly 5 percent drop in attendance.
Tourism officials around the state said they no longer can count on families taking one- and two-week vacations for the bulk of their business.
Today's two-career families and single parents tend to take long weekend trips, they said.
At Virginia Beach, the average length of stay is down to four days from nearly six, said James B. Ricketts, city tourism director.
"You've got to attract more people to make up the difference," he said.