Who are these people? A look at the modern Virginia Beach tourist

The hordes have descended, armed with a tangle of umbrellas and beach chairs and gobs of sunscreen.

The summer tourist season opened this weekend. Last year, 2.4 million visitors, including business travelers, stayed in Virginia Beach from June through August, the city estimates.

The out-of-towners bring a lot more than beach paraphernalia to please tourism execs.

About three-quarters are return visitors, according to city surveys, so they really like the place.

Their average household income is in the six digits, affording them plenty of pocket change during their vacations.

If only they were more millennial.

The Beach’s top tourism wish: to lure more “late millennials,” those roughly between 25 and 34. The reason: They’re a big chunk of the population, a slew of them live in the Washington area and, best of all, they spend a lot on travel.

To be exact, about $5,386 a year, more than any other generation, according to MMGY Global, a travel marketing agency.

And the younger they are when they first visit, the more return trips they’ll make.

To get them here, the city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau adjusted its marketing strategy this year, dropping newspaper ads and pumping up online videos and TV spots featuring young couples kayaking, biking and kissing on the Boardwalk and underwater.

Last week, Virginia Beach accelerated its pursuit of another hot slice of the travel demographic: Chinese tourists. The city filmed a 10-minute video, from oyster farmers to Oceanfront restaurants, to be released on Chinese TV in August.

Virginia Beach joined Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, a year ago. The city has about 700,000 followers, said Ron Kuhlman, vice president of tourism marketing.



Average age in 2014: 45.1 Got to get that down.

Average household income: $108,752 That’s risen from $99,866 in 2011. Even better, the share of overnight visitors with family incomes of at least $125,000 has grown to 32 percent.

Average amount spent: $2,442 Not much different from the $2,402 average in 2011, despite the rising incomes. Really got to get that up.

Education level: 52 percent have at least a four-year degree. Oddly, that’s down from 55 percent in 2011. But, hey, if they’ve got more money to spend, does it really matter?

Average length of stay: 4.6 nights That’s held roughly constant. How about one more night? We’ll throw in free Wi-Fi.

Marital status: 70 percent of visitors are married, about the same as in 2011. Beach tourism officials know that number will fall if they attract more millennials, but that’s OK.

Percentage with children: 53 percent That’s dropped in the past few years. Look at it this way: fewer outings for Ferris wheels and ice cream, but more expensive steak and sushi dinners.

Ethnic breakdown: More diverse than it was. 82 percent are white and 9 percent black, compared with 87 percent and 7 percent in 2011. Increases, too, in Hispanic American tourists (5 percent from 3) and Asian Americans (4 percent from 3).

New to the Beach? Not most of them. 77 percent are repeat visitors, up a little from 73 percent in 2011.

Type of accommodation: 59 percent stayed at a hotel or motel, down from 64 percent in 2011. That reflects the rising popularity of options such as campgrounds and locations outside the Oceanfront. In Sandbridge, annual rental revenue more than doubled in the past decade to $51 million.

Drive or fly? 93 percent drove here, and 7 percent flew. But those numbers might be misleading. A family from Ohio – one of the up-and-coming sources of tourists – that flies into Dulles and rents a car is counted in the driving category.

Nighttime Boardwalk visitors? 74 percent don’t hit the Boardwalk or Atlantic Avenue after 8 p.m. Saturday. Jim Ricketts, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, gently describes it as “a high-energy place,” though less so than in the ’70s.

Most popular feature: 18 percent like the “clean beach.”

Least popular feature: 11 percent experienced “traffic/tunnel delays on the way.” But that doesn’t seem to be stopping them from coming back. Phew.

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24 May 2015

By Philip Walzer