NORFOLK -- Since revitalization of the city's downtown waterfront and construction of Waterside festival marketplace, tourism has been making a steady march upward, and 1987 was no different, officials said last week.

Last year, tourism in the port city climbed 3 percent over 1986. The increase reflected modest growth, but still generated smiles at the Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"There are a lot of cities in our region that are building new attractions, new conference centers, a lot of new hotels," said Diane Stutz, the bureau's marketing director. "We see that {development} coming in the future for Norfolk, but we didn't see it in 1987, and we were still able to keep our numbers up and we feel really good about that."

Nationwide, preliminary statistics supplied by the U.S. Travel Data Center in Washington indicated travel, which includes vacation and business, was expected to grow about 6 percent last year.

Norfolk's 1987 tourism revenue figures are not available yet, but Stutz predicted they probably would be close to the estimated $208.4 million generated in 1986 and the $207.3 million in 1985.

While Norfolk draws about 1.5 million visitors each year, the bureau places its greatest emphasis on attracting convention business -- especially military reunions -- and bus tours, said Stutz. Both have grown dramatically since June 1983, when Waterside, a food and retail facility, opened and the city began using adjoining waterfront property for festivals and other outdoor entertainment.

Stutz said bus tours to Norfolk increased from 455 in 1983 to 1,552 in 1987 -- a 241 percent increase. Convention business grew from 133 in 1983 to 219 in 1987 -- a 65 percent rise. Stutz attributed much of the growth to Waterside and spin-off attractions.

"It certainly did increase our numbers substantially and it certainly was a turning point in the bus-tour market," she said. Waterside, along with waterfront entertainment and festivals, "gave us a real hook in terms of getting people to look at Norfolk."

As for the future, Stutz said the bureau has several strategies planned for helping Norfolk stay ahead in the keenly competitive tourism business.

Bureau officials are looking at promoting Norfolk more heavily in other parts of the state, especially in Western Virginia, Stutz said.

Additionally, they plan to kick off a program next month that involves informing city cab drivers about Norfolk's attractions so they can pass that information along to travelers. They also plan to begin working this year with Norfolk hotels to promote vacation packages, she said.

Stutz said a recent survey of travelers showed that the most visited attractions in Norfolk are Waterside; the Ocean View beaches; the Norfolk Naval Base -- considered the largest naval facility in the world; harbor tours; and the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.