- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) - Virginia tourism officials are hoping to attract foreign travelers as the U.S. economy struggles and domestic vacationers threaten to stay home.

Virginia Tourism Corp. is pushing the state as a vacation destination for international visitors by maintaining a presence at travel-industry trade shows and printing travel guides in five languages.

International tourists are desirable because they tend to stay longer and spend more money than their domestic counterparts, tourism officials said.

The average international traveler visits two states, stays 16 nights and spends more than $1,600 a trip - more than twice a domestic traveler, according to Capital Region USA. The group is made up of the Virginia Tourism Corp., the Washington D.C. Convention and Visitors Association, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and the Maryland Office of Tourism Development.

The group spends about $2 million a year to attract foreign travelers. Virginia Tourism increased its share by $55,000, to $350,000 last year, to attract travelers in the United Kingdom to the 400th anniversary commemoration of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the United States.

Washington Dulles International Airport, with about 300 international flights arriving each week, helps the region draw visitors from several countries, said Diane Bechamps, vice president of marketing at Virginia Tourism Corp.

The D.C. region is the fourth most-popular tourist destination in the U.S. for Germans, with nearly 140,000 visiting a year, according to Capital Region USA. Only Florida, New York and the Southwest have more.

Domestic and international tourists spent $17.7 billion while vacationing in Virginia in 2006, according to the latest figures from the Virginia Tourism Corp. The tourism industry generated more than $1 billion in state and local taxes in 2006 and employed about 208,000.

Tourism officials think they have a receptive audience of foreign travelers, especially because of the falling value of the U.S. dollar.

“We’re optimistic and think it will be a good year,” Mrs. Bechamps said.