“How can we work together to create a region? We are no longer going to compete between the cities, we have the opportunity to compete with other tourist destinations. How can we leverage all our assets? I’ve never been more excited about the future of our region,” said Bruce Thompson, CEO of Gold Key|PHR at a panel discussion on The Economic Blueprint of Tourism.
The Hampton Roads Chamber partnered with the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association and the Virginia Beach Hotel Association to cohost the 2018 Coastal Virginia Hospitality Expo at the Virginia Beach Convention Center on February 1st. Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO, Bryan K. Stephens moderated the panel discussion. Stephens emphasized that the Chamber means business and as an impactful advocate for the region, is helping to shape legislature that allows the tourism and hospitality industries to thrive. The panel consisted of industry experts, Barry DuVal, President and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Mitchell Reiss, President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Bruce Thompson, CEO of Gold Key|PHR who provided expert commentary on the importance of tourism to our economy, its challenges in Hampton Roads and knowledgeable advice on what we can do to improve it.
Tourism, alongside our military, and the Port of Virginia make up the 3 pillars of our economy and making our region an attractive and provocative vacation destination was as the root of the discussion. Regionalism was the emphasis. “In order for our region to grow and prosper along economic lines, it means all 10 cities and 5 counties need to grow and prosper together,” said DuVal. As the voice of Virginia business, DuVal was instrumental in drafting the Blueprint Virginia initiative which lays out the major issues for Virginia’s competitiveness.
Mitchell Reiss outlined his vision for diversifying the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and coupling the historical experience with top notch hospitality. “What Colonial Williamsburg needs to do is make the experience engaging, immersive and entertaining without compromising authenticity,” Reiss said. His presence on the panel, was a nod towards the regionalism that resonated throughout the discussion. Uniting the Southside with the Peninsula in brainstorming how to grow and prosper our region is key.
The panel agreed that business leaders must think innovatively about workforce training. “It takes the partnership of leaders to grow and prosper the region and the tourism industry,” DuVal said. Thompson, whose initiatives at The Main in Norfolk and the much anticipated re-opening of The Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach later this month, discussed the building of a hospitality school being needed in the area. “Business and capital go where talent is. We need to be known as the hospitality center of the East Coast.” Thompson also started a lively discussion on the branding of our region. Is Hampton Roads the right name for our region? “Does anyone know what that means or where it is? Is the name healthy or not? We can’t market our region until we do something about the branding.”
After questions from the audience, Stephens closed the panel with a reminder that we need to tell our story, advocating and advertising that Virginia and our region in particular is a place for tourism. The Chamber is an inspiring ignitor, promoting the importance of regionalism in the hospitality and tourism industry and beyond.