Tourism’s Impact on Prince William’s Economy and Residents’ Quality of Life

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By Cindy Brookshire

“Instead of planning a vacation a month or two, or six months in advance, people are planning their vacations two weeks in advance … and they are going for only two or three days.” — Rita McClenny, Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO

Have you exchanged long, expensive vacations for smaller, local staycations or mini-trips within a 500-mile radius? You’re not alone.

“Instead of planning a vacation a month or two, or six months in advance, people are planning their vacations two weeks in advance. They are having more and more frequent getaways, and they are going for only two to three days,” said Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO Rita McClenny, during her keynote speech in May at the annual National Travel and
Tourism Week Luncheon and Industry Awards Event at the Old Manassas Courthouse. Local tourism marketing agency Discover Prince William & Manassas hosted the event.

Tourism is Virginia’s second largest employer and fifth largest revenue generator, said McClenny, whose state agency markets the commonwealth to visitors. Tourism is a growing industry in Virginia, where it generated a record $21.2 billion in revenue during 2012, based on state government statistics. According to U.S. Travel Association research data for 2013, tourism’s annual impact on the U.S. economy is $2.1 trillion. The result: “We’re seeing more and more localities investing in tourism because it builds stronger communities,” McClenny said.

The economic impact of tourism in Prince William is also on the rise. According to Kerry Lynch, Discover Prince William & Manassas marketing and communications manager, visitors
generated $508 million in tourism revenue in Prince William County during 2012, based on the latest figures available from the U.S. Travel Association, which calculates the data. Visitors to the area generated $487 million in revenue in 2011, a nearly 10 percent increase over tourism revenue produced in Prince William the year prior.
In Manassas and Manassas Park, tourism revenue is also climbing, totaling $63.5 million for 2012, up 4 percent from the $61 million the cities produced combined in 2011, a 10 percent
hike in dollars visitors generated the year before in the cities.

“Tourism is a crucial part of our local economy,” said Ann Marie Maher, president and CEO of Discover Prince William & Manassas, which is located in Manassas, with a visitor center also
in Historic Occoquan. She attributed the increases to the county’s and cities’ investment in tourism and her agency’s sales, marketing and public relations efforts.

The economic benefits of tourism to Prince William include nearly three million visitors and more than 6,000 tourism jobs each year in the county and Manassas, said Maher. That figure may also be rising. Based on a Virginia Tourism Corporation report for 2012, the county, Manassas and Manassas Park saw nearly 6,480 tourism jobs, Lynch said.

That’s one reason why Prince William community leaders partner with the tourism agency to attract tourists. “We take the power of partnerships seriously,” said City of Manassas Mayor
Harry “Hal” Parrish II at the luncheon, where he was among four award recipients. Manassas ranked No. 1 on the recent list in Cities Journal of the top 14 small cities in Virginia
( Occoquan ranked No. 2.

“Becoming a tourism and tourist destination cannot and should not be accomplished by government alone,” said Parrish. “By working with our partners like Historic Manassas and Discover
Prince William & Manassas, we have been incredibly successful at leveraging state tourism grants for the betterment of our community. Our quality of life in the City of Manassas is better
because of these partnerships.” Historic Manassas, Inc., is a nonprofit organization leading the revitalization and promotion of historic downtown Manassas.

Prince William County, with more than 430,000 people, is the second most populous county in Virginia, a significant factor in the role tourism plays in the area, Neabsco District Supervisor
John Jenkins told the luncheon audience. “We understand that the same places that attract visitors also play a huge role in enhancing our residents’ quality of life,” said Jenkins, a member
of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

Those places include the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas and the county’s parks and recreation facilities, he said. “Our budget we just passed includes [funding for]two new libraries and a huge chunk of money for parks and recreation. We see at least four new hotel developments on the horizon, including a multi-million-dollar resort and spa at Potomac
Shores [in Dumfries]that is a masterpiece and a showplace. We’re hopeful for a new Potomac Nationals ballpark and furthering an investment in infrastructure improvements that will support local sports leagues and grow our sports tourism initiatives,” Jenkins said.

Discover Prince William & Manassas’s roadmap for success is a five-year strategic plan the agency announced in May 2012 that tracks with the Virginia State Tourism Plan. The local plan, like the state’s, focuses strategies on developing tourism products and supporting elements called pillars, partnerships, promotions and policies.

In Prince William, tourism products include history and heritage; town and city centers; culinary activities, such as dining, wineries and agri-tourism; meetings and conferences; nature  and outdoor recreation; arts and music; events and sports, industry and commercial attractions.

“When a planner calls, we don’t just help with hotel rooms or tell them about destinations. We create  products for our groups, and we do that by getting out into the community and talking to people,” said Maher.

For example, while the new luxury Salamander® Resort & Spa in Middleburg is outside Prince William, a connector, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, which includes a 180-mile long national scenic byway from Gettysburg, Pa., to Monticello in Virginia, creates tours that bring resort guests into the area. Discover Prince William & Manassas will participate in planning the tours at the next VA-1 Tourism  summit, Nov. 16-18 in Northern Virginia, Maher said. The summit is Virginia’s annual statewide  conference that brings together tourism professionals.


Gearing up for the 2015 World Police & Fire Games

 Discover Prince William & Manassas created a sports tourism task force in 2012 to identify and secure  local sporting events and tournaments. To amplify its reach, Discover Prince William & Manassas partners with the five other convention and visitors bureaus in Northern Virginia. The benefits of that partnership will play out when the World Police & Fire Games (last held in Belfast in 2013) arrive in Northern Virginia June 26 – July 5, 2015.

In 2009, Fairfax County won the bid for the 2015 games, when more than 12,000 athletic public  emergency personnel from 70 countries are expected to compete in 53 venues over 10 days. The World Police & Fire Games is an Olympic-style competitive sports event held biennially throughout the world. The games are second only to the Olympics as one of the globe’s largest multisport, multi-venue amateur athletic events. They will take place mostly in Fairfax County, but also include activities throughout Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and parts of Maryland.

Three of the 2015 games’ events already scheduled in Prince William include ice hockey at the Prince William Ice Center in Woodbridge, rifle large bore at the Quantico Shooting Club and cross country at the Manassas National Battlefield Park, Maher said. The agency’s sales department also facilitated hotel contracts in Prince William and Manassas that have a potential of utilizing more than 10,000 room nights, a number that could change over time, Maher said.

Prince William Is Stop on 2015 PGA Tour

 Prince William County has an agreement for a major tournament next year that will put the area “on the  national map in the arena of golf,” said Jenkins. The area has been selected as the location for the Tiger Woods Foundation’s invitational professional golf tournament in 2015.

The event, called the 2015 Quicken Loans National, will be held at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, home of the President’s Cup in 1994 (its inaugural event), 1996, 2000 and 2005. More than 100 golfers participated in 2013 at the last Quicken Loans National, a six-day event that welcomed nearly150,000 fans. Since its inception in 2007, the Quicken Loans National had been held most years at the Congressional Country Club in Montgomery County, Md.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase Prince William as a prime destination for golf enthusiasts, as well as [for]sporting events and tournaments,” said Maher in her agency’s April press release announcing golf legend Tiger Woods’ choice of the local 18-hole, par-72 and 7,425-yard course, commonly known as RTJ, for the invitational.

Woods reportedly chose the club for its proximity to Washington, D.C., and because the event spotlights the U.S. military and benefits the foundation’s after-school learning centers, including one at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

“The economic impact on the region will include increased hotel room night occupancies and growth in the spending of discretionary funds on lodging, food and beverage and regional attractions,” Maher said.

PWL714Tourism7 potomac shores golf course

Potomac Shores, on the banks of the Potomac River near Dumfries, is the newest golf club in Prince William.

While RTJ, on the banks of Lake Manassas, is a private club, Prince William is also home to eight public golf clubs and five municipal golf courses. Potomac Shores Golf Club is the newest, opening near Dumfries in May. Potomac Shores includes the first public Jack Nicklaus Signature designed golf course in the Washington, D.C., metro area. The 18-hole, par-72 course, on the banks of the Potomac River, is also part of the region’s first luxury resort master-planned community. The club includes full-service practice facilities, multiple tee levels, a putting green, practice bunker and lavish clubhouse.

Prince William’s Top Six Attractions

Golf is not the only tourist attraction in Prince William, however. Most locals can name the area’s top six attractions. There are two national parks: Manassas National Battlefield Park and Prince William Forest Park, with its 15,000 acres and 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. Then there are Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle. Music venue Jiffy Lube Live in Gainesville is also on the list, as is the perennial favorite, Potomac Mills mall, in Woodbridge, the largest outlet mall in Virginia, with more than 220 shops and eateries.

Prince William & Manassas received funding in its fiscal 2015 budget to research whether the tourism agency is reaping a return on its marketing and advertising campaigns since it rebranded in 2010, Maher said. She wants to make sure the agency is reaching targeted audiences.

Events such as the reenactment in July 2011 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run, which no doubt contributed to the area’s double-digit increase in tourism revenue that year, is among the agency’s successes, Maher said.

“What the 150th Commemoration of Manassas/Bull Run did for us was to catapult us into the Civil War history tourism market,” she said. “The city and the county recognized that as a momentous historical occasion and made a huge investment in it.” About 18,000 spectators attended, and more than 300 media representatives covered it, producing 1,313 stories, Maher said. “As a result, we became better known. It definitely put us on the map,” she said.

A final official 150th commemorative all-day speaking event is planned for May 2015 at the Old Manassas Courthouse, Maher said. History and educational events, including the annual Civil War Weekend, Aug. 22 this year in Manassas, continue year-round.

“We recognize that one of the reasons people come here is because of the Civil War, but now our goal is to have visitors focus [on]our natural and outdoor recreational activities,” said Maher. “When you look at an aerial map of the metropolitan D.C. area, most of the outdoor recreational space is right here. We’re a trailhead gateway to the Shenandoah—the first stop for D.C. area residents leaving the city to stop and explore.”

Manassas resident Cindy Brookshire is a frequent contributor to Prince William Living. Brookshire can be reached at


For Woodbridge Senior High School former principal Alan Ross, finding a local venue for the celebration this coming fall of the school’s 50th anniversary was a no-brainer.

The challenge Ross faced was organizing the logistics of hotel rooms for hundreds of out-of-town guests. That’s when he turned to Discover Prince William & Manassas. Sales Associate Mike Stoupa, among the tourism marketing agency’s 10-person staff (three part-time), assisted Ross. Over a few days, Stoupa facilitated guest-room blocks for discounted prices at six hotels, all listed on the reunion website ( The guest list has grown to more than 2,000 attendees, according to organizers.

“Our residents don’t necessarily think about our agency as a resource,” said Discover Prince William & Manassas President and CEO Ann Marie Maher. The agency’s website,, where visitors are invited to “plan a trip and discover your story,” is everything from a welcome wagon to a shopping hub. “We are free to local residents. It doesn’t cost anyone to contact us for any of our services,” Maher said.

In April, the Virginia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus awarded Discover Prince William & Manassas two 2014 VIRGOs. One was for outstanding digital presence (a 1,000 percent increase in website traffic and 1,433 new Facebook likes since the site’s launch in March 2013), and the other was for the agency’s collaboration with three other Virginia tourism marketing agencies on the regional  promotional initiative “Virginia By Rail.” VIRGO awards honor individuals, groups, businesses and destination marketing organizations that significantly contribute to Virginia’s economy through tourism promotionand development.

Helps Locate Venues for Variety of Events

The agency’s website has proven helpful to local residents. For engaged couple Carrie Cross and David Magill, both of Manassas, finding a venue to book quickly for their spring 2015 wedding reception was a priority, but they were unfamiliar with sites in the area.

“Instead of the bride-to-be calling every single hotel or special event venue, we actually do the legwork for [her],” said Discover Prince William & Manassas Marketing and Communications Manager Kerry Lynch. “We’ll send out a lead to the properties or vendors that match your requests, whether it’s a unique venue or historic facility.”

Lynch encouraged Cross to check out “Wedding: A Day to Remember, A Location to Love” on the  tourism agency’s website. Based on information she found there and after visiting a number of sites, Cross had a deposit within two weeks on a reception site: the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory in historic downtown Manassas. She continues to work with a Discover Prince William & Manassas sales associate to locate catering and other vendor services, Lynch said.

How It’s Funded

Discover Prince William & Manassas is a not-for-profit 501(c)6 organization, funded primarily by the 7 percent transient occupancy tax that travelers pay for renting hotel and motel rooms in the area. “The tax collected from … hotels [in the county] is used to promote the entire destination,” explained Maher. In fiscal year 2013, Prince William County collected $3.5 million through the tax.

The City of Manassas also contributes to the agency’s budget, which totals $1.2 million for fiscal year 2014, Maher said. Manassas’s contribution, which covers nearly 8 percent of the budget, gives the city “a bigger bang because we use Manassas in all of our marketing. In turn, Prince William benefits because the name Manassas with its historical association has much more recognition in the marketplace. It’s a win-win,” Maher said.



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