The Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) received a national tourism industry award for its work promoting the Virginia Oyster Trail, a new tourism initiative connecting travelers with Virginia’s oyster farms, raw bars, wineries, restaurants and artisans.
VTC was recognized with the prestigious National Council of State Tourism Directors Mercury Award during the U.S. Travel Association’s annual Education Seminar for Tourism Organizations conference this week. With the annual Mercury Awards, the U.S. Travel Association recognizes state and territory tourism offices for excellence and creative accomplishment in travel marketing and promotion. Winning programs serve as models to foster imagination and innovation in the development of future destination programs. This is VTC’s 10th Mercury Award for its work promoting Virginia’s exceptional tourism assets and experiences.
“VTC’s 10th Mercury Award is well-earned, and an important honor for our growing oyster industry,” said Governor McAuliffe. “Just two years ago, a public-private partnership of stakeholders began working together to brand the Virginia oyster travel experience to show the world that Virginia is for Oyster Lovers. Today, the oyster trail is a national sensation, offering visitors a way to enjoy Virginia’s eight different oyster regions, as well as experience the unique culture of watermen in the Chesapeake Bay. I am proud of the coalition of partners, both public and private, that are making a difference as we build the new Virginia economy. This award demonstrates that when our state agencies work together, we can make a major impact on the future of our great Commonwealth.”
Since its official launch last November, the Virginia Oyster Trail has received significant praise from consumers and has piqued the interest of travelers seeking a unique culinary travel experience. This year, VTC saw a 31 percent increase in visitation to oyster-related content on its website, virginia.org. In the battle against other states for earned and social media related to oyster travel, Virginia outpaced the competition by capturing 42 percent of the conversation. The next closest competitor, New York, garnered only 21 percent, followed by Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland. In just one year, Virginia Tourism increased its share to 42 percent from 27 percent.
“The Virginia Oyster Trail is an important way to tell the story of our people, our waters, and our foodways in a way that no one else in the country is doing,” said First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe. “Travelers can now experience Virginia’s coastal culture through their taste buds, learning about the significant history of our watermen, our eight different oyster regions, and how oysters are helping restore the Chesapeake Bay. This award is just one more way to show the world why Virginia is for Oyster Lovers and why Virginia is the Oyster Capital of the East Coast.”
Virginia oysters continue to be a major driver for tourism, an industry that is an instant revenue generator for the Commonwealth. Last year, visitors to Virginia spent $23 billion, which supported 222,000 jobs and contributed $1.6 billion in state and local taxes to the Commonwealth. The oyster industry is also booming and performing better than it has in nearly a generation. Last year, Virginia oysters had a dockside value of nearly $34 million, a 52 percent increase from 2013.
“This designation is an important accolade for the Virginia Oyster Trail, but also for Virginia’s tourism industry as a whole,” said Todd Haymore, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. “This award recognizes the importance of the Virginia Oyster Trail not only as a fantastic new tourism product for Virginia, but as an effective tool to help inject critical dollars into the new Virginia economy.”
The Virginia Tourism Corporation partnered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Shellfish Growers of Virginia, Virginia Seafood Council, Virginia Marine Products Board, and Artisans Center of Virginia, in addition to local tourism offices and planning district commissions, to make the Virginia Oyster Trail project a reality.