Tourists in the mid-Atlantic region stayed closer to home this summer, and Prince William County hotels reaped the benefit, as their revenue increased 5 to 6 percent in July and August, according to a recent convention and visitors bureau survey.
Rising gas prices spurred residents from D.C.-area cities such as Baltimore and Richmond to seek closer attractions for family getaways, the survey said.
The Prince William County/Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau has been pushing Potomac Mills, the county's daily-fee golf courses, and Manassas National Battlefield Park and other Civil War sites to lure tourists. The agency advertised in the magazines Better Homes & Gardens, Country Living and Ladies' Home Journal, but the pain at the pump has done the most to increase tourism, said Tabatha Mullins, executive director of the bureau.
"It has a lot to do with gas prices," she told the Board of County Supervisors last week.
The 5 to 6 percent increase equated to about $1.5 million, Mullins said in an interview.
Most tourists came from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, she said, and particularly from the cities of Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Besides Potomac Mills, which is by far the county's biggest draw, with 30 million visitors annually, tourists sought out Civil War sites as part of tours featuring the region's history, Mullins said in the interview. "Prince William County would be a part of a Civil War excursion," she said.
Final numbers are not yet available, but hotel revenues from September -- when the county hosted the elite Presidents Cup golf tournament -- are likely to be even higher than those in July and August, Mullins told supervisors. On the bureau's Web site, the subjects with the most hits were the Presidents Cup, Presidents Cup parking and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, where the tournament took place, she said.
Although hotel revenues are up, they are not as high as in surrounding counties, since the federal General Services Administration does not classify Prince William County as part of metropolitan Washington. Without that designation, government workers receive just $76 per diem for hotel rooms in Prince William while receiving $166 per diem in Fairfax, Mullins said, causing many to stay in hotels outside of the county.
Prince William County and Manassas have 3,100 rooms in 35 hotels, with the highest daily rate being $149.
Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) and other supervisors said the county should push for a higher rate through the federal agency. "We're continually thought of as Northern Virginia," Barg said.