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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Supports Region’s Hospitality Industry with Tourism Resilience Project

Tourism is a major economic driver for coastal Virginia.

According to a 2017 report by the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, tourism contributed $1.4 billion to the Virginia Beach economy in 2015, generating nearly 13,000 jobs and $256 million in salaries.

Travel + Leisure magazine readers recently named Norfolk, Virginia their favorite U.S. city, but the entire region is benefiting from conference and tourism business. At the same time, Hampton Roads' tourism-based businesses share another common thread: threats from severe coastal storms.

With tens of thousands of hospitality jobs and more than $1 billion in tourism revenue supporting the region, just how well prepared are coastal Virginia businesses to manage and bounce back in the face of sea level rise and recurrent flooding? And what can be done to help them?

That's just what Old Dominion University researcher, Lindsay Usher, from the university's Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies department, and her colleagues, set out to discover through the Tourism Resilience Project. The study was jointly conducted by the Old Dominion University Resilience Collaborative and the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at the William & Mary Law School, using Virginia Beach oceanfront businesses as a test bed.

Here's an overview of their key findings:

Most hotel properties encountered similar issues with wind-driven rain and flooding from coastal storms. All had challenges with employees unable to get to work during severe weather events due to reliance on public transportation. Smaller hotels were less resilient as they typically have less access to resources than larger hotels.

Restaurants, retail businesses and attractions were less prepared for disasters and recovery than hotels because most were independently owned and had fewer resources.

All tourism businesses relied on insurance and the resources that came with coverage, and most were not concerned about their ability to maintain insurance coverage in the future.

The City of Virginia Beach has taken steps to increase resilience by conducting beach replenishment and is now developing a Comprehensive Sea Level Rise Plan. Additionally, the City has a variety of city codes aimed at protecting the environment and building codes which address flood and wind protection for businesses.

"Our goal is to take what we've learned from the study and apply it to help coastal Virginia businesses improve resiliency and mitigate risk," Usher said.

The work has translated into a website that businesses can access to take an online resiliency self-assessment as well as learn about resources and tools to help them become better prepared for severe weather threats. The website is scheduled to launch in January 2018, and will be followed by a series of resilience workshops throughout the year.

For additional information about the Tourism Resiliency Project, contact Lindsay Usher at lusher@odu.edu. A complete copy of the study can be found at http://www.floodingresiliency.org/tourism/.