Tourism and the Creative Class

Monticello: Old style tourism destination

by James A. Bacon

A draft plan written by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP makes a valuable contribution to thinking realistically and creatively about Virginia tourism. The “Virginia State Tourism Plan” comes tantalizingly close to integrating the development of tourism initiatives with economic development in the Knowledge Economy… but never quite completes the loop.

Virginians have long touted the beauty of their beaches and mountains, but as PriceWaterhouseCoopers diplomatically observes, “Virginia is somewhat challenged in differentiating its experiences for nature and outdoor recreation from neighboring states with similar offerings, some of which may be well known, competitively marketed, and offered in a concentrated area.”

Virginians also pride themselves for the wealth of their historical heritage. However, the study notes tersely, history has a limited draw. “These experiences may be perceived as more passive and not necessarily exciting to potential visitors.” The historical city of Charleston, S.C., by contrast, has won recognition as one of America’s Great Adventure Towns by National Geographic.

Folk festival: new style tourism attraction

The study makes the case for a very different kind of tourism — one not based upon giant, Disney-like destinations, which the state doesn’t have in any case, but rooted in the state’s artistic roots and modern culture.

Virginia … possesses a growing creative economy built on musical and artistic roots and combined with modern culture. From the mountain, folk, and bluegrass music to the world class art museums, galleries, and theatres, there are many opportunities to experience the cultural arts. Additionally, the 25 designated Main Street communities and other towns and cities throughout rural and urban areas, offer genuine downtown charm and unique shops, galleries, restaurants, events, and festivals that help define the artistic culture present throughout the Commonwealth.

The beauty of this focus, although PriceWaterhouseCoopers doesn’t come right out and say so, is that these types of destinations are not only potentially attractive to visitors from New York or Canada but to Virginians. Tourism can support a rich mosaic of events, venues and experiences that enhance Virginians’ quality of life — thus making the Old Dominion more competitive in recruiting and retaining the educated, affluent and innovative individuals who comprise the wealth-creating creative class.

What kind of attractions does PriceWaterhouseCoopers have in mind? The study mentions the following: town/city centers, nature & outdoor recreation, facilities for participant and spectator sports, culinary visitor experiences, and music & arts, among others

For example, Virginia has emerged as a significant wine destination, ranked as one of the top ten wine destinations worldwide in 2012 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. With more than 200 wineries, 50 breweries and distilleries and a notable wine-to-table movement, Virginia can position itself as a serious destination for high-income foodies. If Virginia became a true foody heaven, it could  draw visitors not only from outside the state — as Lousiana has done marketing its Cajun culinary tradition — it could enrich the everyday experience of Virginians in a way, say, that Disney World cannot for Floridians.

Similarly, Virginia offers an abundance of waterfront along its rivers, lakes and coastlines. While taking care to protect the environment, the state and its communities should increase access to recreation activities such as fishing, boating, rafting, paddling, hiking, and shoreline biking — as well as events and festivals. By way of comparison, the study offers Governor’s Island in New York, a 172-acre island located a half mile from Manhattan and accessible by a free ferry that hosts cultural events, food festivals, concerts and performances. Such recreational assets would appeal not only to out-of-state visitors but to Virginians themselves.

A region’s competitive advantage in the Knowledge Economy comes from its ability to recruit and retain the creative class. Building assets around activities that educated, creative people like to pursue — dining, hiking, kayaking, biking, listening to music, engaging in amateur athletics — builds the base for a tourism industry and growth of the creative class.

If the state tourism plan explicitly made that connection, I believe, it would greatly strengthen the case for investing in tourism.

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  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “The study makes the case for a very different kind of tourism — one not based upon giant, Disney-like destinations, which the state doesn’t have in any case, but rooted in the state’s artistic roots and modern culture.”

    So, you are discounting Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion which have a large regional draw for people under 30 and Colonial Williamsburg which pretty much originated the concept of the destination tourism back 70 or more years ago.

    And we are supposed to be impressed those in the “Knowledge Economy,” a term that is sooo like 1990s.

    As far as Charleston S.C., it has several things going for it — a beautiful setting on two tidal rivers, a tight concentration of unique architecture and stand out marketing. But if you want to see some rather ugly places go a few miles north of Charleston.

    Hot flash: the “Knowledge Economy” has been around here for years — mostly in NOVA where it has been funded by lots of federal money or offshoots of federal money (hate to bring THAT up!). Problem is, outside of Old Town Alexandria, there really aren’t many pretty places in NOVA-land. It’s all one big Tysons Corner strip mall with a Ritz Carlton. Slick marketers up there, BTW, want to drop the “Corner” bit and make it “Tysons.” Now that’s a place I want to drive hundreds of miles to see! Could that be Virginia’s “modern culture?”

    It time to stop reading highly-paid consulting firms and giving their bullshit an overlay with Richard Florida’s bullshit. The man’s ideas are getting so old and he’s merely recycling.

    How about we have a pact: no mention of Richard Florida in Bacons Rebellion for six months? We could be Florida-free! Think of it!

    1. Oooh, feisty! Feisty!

      You wrote, “It time to stop reading highly-paid consulting firms…”

      Oh, really? Even when the high-priced consulting firm in question is the author of a draft plan that will drive state tourism strategy in the years ahead?

      And, continuing, you said, “… and giving their bullshit an overlay with Richard Florida’s bullshit.”

      Referring to Florida’s work as “bullshit” does not constitute an argument. Noting the fact that the “knowledge economy” has been around a long time does not constitute an argument. The fact is, Virginia is still grappling with how to adapt to the knowledge economy and still has no coherent approach to recruiting and retaining human capital. Tourism policy has been trapped in a time warp for decades.

      This plan is the first time I’ve seen in writing any effort to make the link between tourism and the knowledge economy (even though it doesn’t close the loop). That idea is new. If it’s “bullshit,” please tell us why it is so.

    2. Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion? They may have been innovative 70 years ago — talk about “old news” — but there is nothing remotely unique about them now. There are theme parks all over the country today. Does Kings Dominion draw anyone from outside the state at all? Does Busch Gardens draw anyone who’s not coming to Colonial Williamsburg first? Does either one have 1/100th the drawing power of Disney World?

      1. Busch Gardens drew me for a number of years when I was younger. It used to be a tradition that instead of presents on my birthday we would take a trip down there. As a roller coaster enthusiast, it was the best, closest option. I have yet to ever go to Colonial Williamsburg. Even as a history buff, the idea of it never appealed to me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment.

        Disney World is generally marketed to families with young children, I’d say less than 10, while roller coasters or at least theme parks where that is the main draw are marketed to people outside of that age group. Having been there, if one is interested primarily in roller coasters, there isn’t a lot there for you. I think if Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion are to succeed, they should move away from this demographic, but that’s just me personally.

  2. I haven’t spent a dime of vacation money in Virginia in years due to the tourism industry’s continued support of the Kings Dominion law.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Peter, peter, peter …

    Why pick on NoVa? Where do you go for cultural diversion in Atlanta.

    And, far more importantly, the city upon which NoVa is built is Washington, DC – not Tyson’s. DC gets, shall we say, a bit more than its share of tourism. Sorry that the reality of NoVa being part of the Washington metropolitan area is lost on those of you from Henrico and Chesterfield but … take it from a DC area lifer … it’s true.

    The big #FAIL in Virginia is Tidewater and the Virginia Eastern Shore. Whether you like the Outer Banks in NC or not, they are a destination. And … Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a whole lot better developed that Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

    Virginia – lots of opportunity, not much vision.

    1. In NoVa’s defense, I would add that Old Town Alexandria is not the only pretty place” in NoVaLand. Once upon a time (40 years ago), Arlington may have been a dump, but it’s one of the most desirable locales in the Washington metro area now and draws its fair share of visitors.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Excuse MEEEEE. Why don’t you get a map of the Eastern Shore? The get to an ocean beach you’d have to get on a dozen or more OFFSHORE islands with no bridges, no ferries and that are owned either by the NAture Conservancy or the NAVY or NASA.
    There is no way in hell or a blue heron you could make the Eastern Shore a tourism beach destination. And thank God for that.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I don’t need a map of the Eastern Shore. I own a home on Maryland’s Eastern shore and I have spent countless days on Virginia’s eastern shore.

      You, apparently, are not so well versed.

      Your first unforced error is to assume that there has to be an ocean beach to draw tourists. St Michael’s, Easton and Oxford are very popular tourist destinations in Maryland and they are miles and miles from the ocean. Tell me why Cape Charles and the surrounding area can’t be a bayside tourist attraction? In many ways, Virginia’s bayside property is considerably more attractive than Maryland’s bayside. For example, here are listings for some beautiful homes and lots on the Va Eastern Shore.

      The same homes and lots in Maryland would cost 4 – 5 times as much.

      But, onto the oceanside. Yes, you would need a bridge to get to an offshore island. I can’t fault your logic on that. Have you ever been to Kiawah Island? Needing a bridge is far from an unsolvable problem.

      As for the Navy owning too much of the property, the US Army Corps of Engineers used to own a chunk of the Outer Banks. However, they moved. If defense spending is going to be cut (at least, for active duty efforts) then Virginia could ask the Navy to give up some of their property. This happens all the time.

      The real reason there isn’t more valuable development on Virginia’s Eastern Shore (seaside) is best summed up by, “And thank God for that.”. Virginia has long held the belief that the seaside of the Eastern Shore should be a nature preserve. I have no problem with that (assuming it reflects what the “locals” want). My point is that making such choices limits the attractiveness of Virginia as a tourist destination.

      As for the lack of substantial tourism on the bayside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore – you tell me.

  5. So Virginia needs to have more roadkill restaurants with authentic chefs like Skeeter or Teethus? More high end Bluegrass bands for the LL Bean crowd? How about a Dollywood with million dollar condos? Oh wait, we are already working on that in Virginia Beach.

    And then there is Tysons. Haven’t any of you figured out that NOVA is what tourists drive through to get to the real stuff? The only reason they might stick around is because the hotel rooms are cheaper, not because of Old Towne whatever.

    Fact is if they want to see old towns, they go to Charleston or Savannah. If they want urbanized country they go to Colorado or Texas. When is Virginia going to stop jealously comparing themselves to other states, ditch the fake stuff, and simply be Virginia?

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Seventy years ago it is the Rockefeller Foundation creating Colonial Williamsburg as perhaps the first ever tourism destination. Yes, a first. In Virginia no less. The theme parks came much later. Thought you knew that.

    Meanwhile, let’s go Florida fee for a while. It’s like listening to “Devo” over and over for three decades.

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Don the Ripper,

    I think there’s a simple explanation for the lack of bay side development on Va.’s Eastern SHore — the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel demands tolls that are too expensive. That limits travel from the south.

    Travel from the north could be promising as it is for Maryland’s Eastern Shore landed gentry (such as yourself) but Va.’s bay shore is a couple hours more of a drive south. If you have backups on the Bay Bridge at Annapolis it’s worse. And if you hit the bayside there at warm months July-Sept. you get zapped by nettles if you try to swim.

    The inlets on the bay side aren’t really conducive to development. Lots of beautiful marshes and lots of pesky mosquitos.

    As for Cape Charles, it’s already part of a huge development with a couple of golf courses. Has been for 15 years.

    If you want the more wonky view, try Bacon. He’s sure loves his consulting reports! And he gets downright creamy if you whisper “KNowledge Economny.”

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      You are on target. People coming from the north is problematic. There is still plenty of Maryland that is relatively undeveloped along the bay. Somerset County, for example, has a lot of undeveloped land. Interestingly, Somerset County’s original English settlers were Quakers from Accomack County in Virginia. Virginia decreed that all Quakers living in the colony would have to convert to Anglican if they wanted to stay in Virginia. So, the Quakers left and went up the bay to Maryland.

      As for Cape Charles, about 1,100 people live there. Not quite a metropolis. In addition, it is very poor. More than 28% of the population lives below the poverty line including a staggering 43% of those under the age of 18. It seems the golf courses and development are not having much effect on the standard of living in Cape Charles.

      I find it strange that Northhampton and Accomack Counties are among the poorest counties in Virginia. The story in Maryland is more mixed. Somerset County is the poorest county in Maryland. However, the next county up the bay – Dorchester – is well up the list and the neighboring county to the north (still on the Eastern Shore) – Talbot County – is the third wealthiest county in Maryland (which is the wealthiest state in the US).

      The disparity seems to be increasing. Somerset County, MD gained 7% population in the 2010 census (with gains in the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses as well). Northampton County shrank by 5.4% and has been losing population for years. Accomack County lost 13.4% of its population in the 10 years between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

      What’s going on? Why are Maryland’s Eastern Shore counties growing and (somewhat) improving their economic outlook while Virginia’s counties are shrinking and are mired in poverty?

      Your point about the cost of tolls is a good one. Maybe economic development in two of Virginia’s poorest counties could be improved by eliminating tolls on weekends and holidays. Let the people from the south come up to Northampton and Accomack for the weekend.

      I have to wonder whether the overall economic benefit to the state would be improved with lower tolls and more economic development in Northampton and Accomack.

  8. Don, I’m wondering if the rapid development of the Maryland counties on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean coast is best explained by the region’s proximity to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region. For Washingtonians looking for second/vacation homes, Maryland counties are significantly closer, hence more desirable, than Virginia counties. Hampton Roads is a smaller, far less affluent metropolitan area — and it’s already on the coast, so there’s not much need to “get away.” I don’t find it surprising at all that Virginia’s Eastern Shore has been far slower to develop.

    Combine that with the fact that the Nature Conservancy has acquired most of the Eastern Shore’s prime Atlantic Coast beach front, either through outright acquisitions or conservation easements, and there’s even less reason to visit the Eastern Shore…. unless you’re into eco-vacations.

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Jim the Bacon is right.

    Unless you love fishing for rock or flounder and are willing the pay the CBBT toll to trailer your boat, you are better off hanging around Hampton Roads or going to the Outer Banks. Most Richmonders are the same way. I know if I think of a beach holiday that’s an easy drive, I go to Hatteras or even farther south.

    The two Eastern Shore counties of Virginia are very poor as Don points out. The place is famous for migrant farm workers and truck farming. Its ruling system is quite medieval historically. The new Cap Charles developments won’t have much impact locally because they are essentially gated communities offering jobs only in low-end service sectors like house cleaning or land maintenance.

  10. I accept the proximity argument for NoVa/Baltimore but there is at least one seeming contradiction for locales south of NoVa – to include Richmond and that is Nags Head which seems to draw an awful lot of Virginians – and it’s at least just as far away as the Eastern Shore is.

  11. DJRippert Avatar

    Peter and Jim:

    You are being too literal. The Baltimore – Washington areas definitely provide a draw to Maryland’s Eastern shore. However, there are many examples of locales which are not near urban centers but are still popular tourist destinations. Kiawah Island, SC and Sea Island, Ga are examples. Ocean City, MD and Dewey Beach, Del are miles from DC but they attract a great tourism crowd.

    Meanwhile, Tidewater may not have the same level of affluence as DC but there are still plenty of wealthy people living there. The stark contrast between Eastern Shore MD and Eastern Shore VA is hard to explain when both are near urban areas.

    As for people hanging around Hampton Roads or going to the Outer Banks – that’s true. Many Washingtonians stay on the Western Shore in and around Annapolis. But many also cross the Bay bridge and help make Talbot County the third wealthiest county in the wealthiest US state.

    One thing Maryland has done to help it’s Eastern Shore is the encouragement of movie making there. Wedding Crashers, Failure to Launch and other movies have documented a certain lifestyle that seems to stick in people’s minds. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me where “the Wedding Crashers’ house” is on the Eastern Shore.

    Virginia’s Eastern Shore is absolutely beautiful and terribly poor. It sits adjacent to a metropolitan area and should be considerably more of a tourist destination than it is. Kiawha Island, SC is 11.2 sq miles of land. It is not really near any major urban center although it is accessible from both Savannah and Charleston. It is a haven for wealthy retirees and semi-retired people.

    Some of Virginia’s beautiful Eastern Shore could be developed into a Kiawha Island like location. People talk about a commercial spaceport at Wallop’s Island. A commercial spaceport? Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to turn it into a beach resort? Or a retirement area for all those Washington, Richmond and Tidewater Boomers who want to get away but not too far away?

    The British have a saying, “Too clever by half.”. Sometimes I think about that saying in the context of Virginia.

    1. There is very little chance of the Eastern Shore developing a major tourist destination. The Nature Conservancy has too much prime real estate locked up.

  12. DJRippert Avatar

    Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is a 14,000 acre island owned by the US Government. The government bought the property from the SB Fields family in 1943.

    Wallops Island is a 6 square mile island leased by the US Navy for flight operations.

    Ocean City, MD has a land area of 4.6 sq miles. It has a year round resident population of 7,100. On summer weekends it hosts 320,000 to 340,000 visitors, making it temporarily Maryland’s second largest city.

    The median family income of the residents of Ocean City, MD is $44,614. By comparison, the median family income of Cape Charles, Va is $29,167.

    Jim, you may not think it’s a good idea to make some parts of Virginia’s Eastern Shore into another Ocean City. However, I think it’s quite a stretch to say that such an undertaking is impossible. And, while you and your “green” friends are trying to lock out economic development in Northampton and Accomack Counties, 43.4% of the children in Cape Charles are living below the poverty line.

    This entire column is emblematic of Virginia’s “problem admiration fetish”. First, a problem is described. Then, great effort is expended to declare any and all possible answers to the problem as “impossible”. I can easily imagine a disgusted George Washington saying to Thomas Jefferson, “Go back to Monticello, Tom. You and the other yeoman farmers can debate the state of the world. As for me, I’ve got a country to build.”.

    The problem in Virginia is that there is too much Jeffersonian problem admiration and too little Washingtonian problem solving.

  13. reed fawell Avatar
    reed fawell

    Having spent many summers growing up on Va.’s Northern Neck, and much of my down time now on Md’s Eastern Shore, I’d say that both locales are terrific places to live, work, and holiday. But I’d also add that the Md. side of the Bay in my view has to date more fully realized its potential. And that Va. could greatly benefit it’s citizens and its Commonwealth greatly by working smartly to fulfill the Northern Necks unrealized promise. It obviously can. That’s proven by Richmond’s ongoing Renaissance of which I recently became aware and is wonderful to behold. My congratulations to the Capital of the Old Dominion.

  14. re: Northern Neck – many, many high dollar homes and boats on the thousands of inlets and creeks and interesting places like Stratford Hall, Washington’s Birthplace, and Menokin, Westmoreland State Park, Belle Isle, etc but this is not the kind of top tier destination tourism that is being discussed – though not sure what attracts people to Maryland’s Eastern Shore either.

    Much of the eastern shore is huge chicken farms, no?

    1. reed fawell Avatar
      reed fawell

      Larry, these incredible historic things you mention on the Road to Tapahannock, Mt Vernon, Etc, could be leveraged off of much more effectively by organized private interests working cooperatively and with the State. It’s one obvious way to improve the dynamic here. Va. to often takes things for granted, I suggest.

  15. re: historic tourism…vs destination tourism

    Reed – if there is a family with kids – you can kiss a history-only tourism experience good-by.

    the discussion here may not say it but a tourist destination offers diverse experiences – often “active” rather than passive.

    and the terrible truth is that a KD or Bush Garden wins over Washingon’s Birthplace any day.

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