Flying High since 1998.

Virginia Tourism Low Wage Jobs

by Lewis Loflin


The Bristol Herald Courier on June 4, 2015 is reporting governor Terry McAuliffe is patting himself on the back over $22.4 billion in tourism revenues. Southwest Virginia and Bristol have spent millions to develop a tourism industry. But not so oddly the poverty and unemployment rates have remained unchanged.

The reason for this is simple, much of what is touted as tourism dollars isn't tourism. And much of what is actually tourism is seasonal and low-paying. For instance Virginia oysters or locally grown produce served at a local restaurant is counted as tourism dollars. That's total nonsense. If I sell tomatoes at a flea market or a farmers market how is that tourism?

The details in the article make it very clear what they're talking about. Things like small wineries, organic farms, or a locally brewed beer are somehow counted as tourist attractions. While collectively they add some value to the state economy in the sense of jobs very little impact.

The problem being there's no way to separate local consumption from tourist consumption. If I visit my sister in Eastern Virginia, buy $20 in gas, and spend $15 at Burger King that ends up counted as $35 in tourism revenue. In no manner can I be counted as a tourist.

As the article goes on tourism generates allegedly $1.5 billion in tax revenue. The Virginia travel industry supported a payroll of more than $5 billion. But what exactly constitutes non-tourism consumption versus tourism consumption?

If a tourist eats at a local truck stop would that be counted as tourism income? If so would the interstate trucker eating at the same truckstop be counted as a tourist?

What is a major industry is economic development receiving tens of millions of public dollars and competition for those public dollars is fierce. There's going to a tendency to inflate the figures or define exactly what is tourism in absurd ways.

I've had to deal with a number of nonprofits in Southwest Virginia that have been awash in public dollars - in fact it's public dollars that's the reason for their very existence. In every case they have been unable to produce verifiable figures to support their claims.

The Weldon Cooper Center in Wise Virginia sole purpose is to produce custom economic studies to justify grants. But here again there is no accountability or follow-up to their studies.

I have asked this exact question to local officials who admit there is no clear way to know. They rely on academic studies and questionnaires from those receiving the grants. Asking grant recipients if their taxpayer grants delivered on its promises with the implicit understanding more could be coming if it's working I'm sure will garner honest answers.

As the article finishes out it notes that "the largest employment increased was in food services." In other words low-paying Burger King jobs.