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Area tourism on the rise

BY LIANA BAYNE

Area tourism is increasing, thanks in part to the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center.

The center held more events in 2011 than in any other year since 2006, and it’s expected to surpass last year by the time 2012 concludes.

David Kerper, the director of marketing for the expo center, said the venue hosted only about 140 events in its first year and is projected to exceed 200 this year.

Karen Hedelt, the director of Fredericksburg’s department of economic development and tourism, attributed the increase partially to the fact that a similar-size venue in Northern Virginia closed recently.

Hedelt said summer tourism in general has been doing well as part of an overall growth trend.

“We’re off to a strong start, and we’re in good shape for the rest of the year,” she said.

Between June 2011 and June 2012, the year-to-date occupancy rate (rooms sold divided by rooms available) increased by 0.7 percent in Fredericksburg, 5 percent in Stafford County and 5.3 percent in Spotsylvania County.

Prices people paid for hotel rooms went up by 3.7 percent in Fredericksburg, 1.9 percent in Stafford and 3.2 percent in Spotsylvania.

This June, Fredericksburg saw a 0.5 percent increase in guests from last June with 63 percent of rooms sold, while Stafford saw 8.7 percent more than last June with 69.6 percent of rooms sold and Spotsylvania saw 8.1 percent more with 64.5 percent of rooms sold.

This June, the average nightly rate for hotel rooms in Fredericksburg was $85.16, an increase of $6.50 from last June. It was $74.73 in Stafford, an increase of $3.87. Rooms rented for an average of $70.39 in Spotsylvania, an increase of $2.14 from last June.

Hedelt said more events at the expo center are part of that increase.

The venue hosts business meetings, conferences, consumer shows, conventions, social events, spectator events and trade shows.

Some of the center’s larger events, like the spring home show, can draw about 20,000 people, Kerper said.

Kerper said this year the venue anticipates having at least 260 days when the center will be in use.

The center also boasts its own in-house catering, decorating, event planning and set up and break down services. Those can be useful not just for tourism events like this past weekend’s Historicon, but also for social events like weddings, class reunions, parties and even funerals.

Kerper said as many as half a million people could come through the expo center in a year.

And all of those people bring an economic impact to the surrounding areas.

“Wegmans loves us,” Kerper said.

He said he thinks Central Park merchants and restaurants, as well as the three hotels adjacent to the expo center—the Homewood Suites, the Hampton Inn and Suites, and the Hilton Garden Inn—benefit greatly when there’s an event at the center.

“We constantly work together with the hotels next door,” Kerper said.

Hedelt said the center and the city work together frequently with hotels.

“The expo center provides another area for us to utilize in driving business to hotels, restaurants, retail and gas stations nearby,” Hedelt said.

Kerper said everything the expo center does is taxed. Additionally, while the center has 10 full-time employees, it can hire up to 200 temporary employees for special events.

“We’re a strong economic vehicle,” Kerper said.

The expo center already has more than 10 major trade-show events planned for the rest of the year.

Hedelt said she anticipates several of the center’s events to bring large amounts of revenue to the area.

Additionally, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, part of the Civil War sesquicentennial, will be “very large,” according to Hedelt.

“I’m very optimistic we’ll continue to see growth,” Hedelt said. “The region continues to grow.”

Liana Bayne: 540/374-5444

lbayne@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/business/2012/07/27/area-tourism-on-the-rise/

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