Virginia communities are losing tourism revenue, including Northern Virginia communities that rank as the state's highest-grossing visitor destinations.
Alexandria along with Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties -- four of Virginia's top five tourist destinations -- all lost tourism dollars from 2008 to 2009, according to the latest data from the Virginia Tourism Corp., released in December.
Fairfax felt the greatest pinch, with a nearly 11 percent drop in tourism-related expenditures in 2009.
Arlington County, the state's No. 1 destination, took in $2.3 billion in tourism revenue in 2009, a $276 million loss from 2008. Virginia Beach, the only top five destination outside of Northern Virginia, drew $1.1 billion in 2009, losing $94 million from 2008.
Fifth-ranked Alexandria has less tourism revenue, about $616 million in 2009, than its neighbors, but it suffered much smaller losses, too -- 4.5 percent between 2008 and 2009, far below the state's 7.9 percent average.
While its revenues were down, Alexandria actually attracted more than 60,000 more tourists over two consecutive years, said Stephanie Brown, president of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.
The declining revenues are partly due to declining hotel rates, which fell enough to offset any gains in the hotels' occupancy rates. Officials also blame lower gas prices, since gas station revenues count as tourism expenditures.
"We're seeing those rates improve, but I think it's going to take a long time for those to get back," Brown said.
Arlington is the top Virginia destination for tourists largely because it abuts the District and its hotel rooms cost 20 percent less, according to Emily Cassell, marketing director for Arlington Convention and Visitor Services.
"Our research shows that most people come to Arlington just to go to D.C.," Cassell said.
Arlington's biggest problem is that it lacks the kinds of amenities that encourage tourists to spend more on dining and shopping, said Karen Vasquez, spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development.
"I think in years past, the trend was to stay in Arlington but then do everything in D.C.," Vasquez said. "But I think we do see changes in that, and as Arlington offers more and more we want visitors to take advantage of that."