- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Vacationers leery of flying after September 11 have been flocking to Virginia an easy driving destination for many in record numbers since the beginning of the year, hotel and travel specialists said yesterday.
"Nearly 50 percent of the country's population lives within a 500-mile radius of the borders of Virginia," said Ashton D. Mitchell III, executive vice president of the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association (VHTA).
The one exception to the travel-industry boom: Northern Virginia, which still is suffering from the decrease in flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The airport was closed after the September 11 attacks and still was not operating at full capacity, Mr. Mitchell said.
From January through the end of June, Northern Virginia's hotels and motels experienced a 1 percent to 3 percent decrease in occupancy rates from last year, compared with an increase of 2 percent to 4 percent in the rest of the state, Mr. Mitchell said.
Also, "the economy hasn't bounced back, and business travel is still off," he said.
But such destinations as Virginia Beach, Busch Gardens and Jamestown, which are within easy reach of Interstate 95, have been awash with visitors since the beginning of the year. The hundreds of campgrounds around the state also are reporting a great season.
Historic Virginia, home to Monticello, Williamsburg, Mount Vernon and many Civil War battlefields, has long been a popular destination. The parks and many hiking trails also contribute to the state's popularity.
This was evident despite a stifling hot summer that slowed visits in July, tourism officials said last month.
Mike Leo, who manages the Misty Mountain Camp Resort just west of Charlottesville, estimated a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in campers this season (starting April 1) from the same time last year.
"My opinion is that the camping business has improved since [September 11]. People would rather go away from big cities," Mr. Leo said. Nearby Monticello and the Blue Ridge Mountains' Skyline Drive also help.
Mr. Leo said the campground was full over the Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of the tourist season, and was booked up for the coming weekend. The campground's season runs through October.
In Virginia Beach, hotel and motel owners have reported a record season, said Jimmy Capps, chairman of the VHTA and owner of the city's Breakers Resort Inn.
"It was a very, very good season for us. Spring was good, and the fall will be good," said Mr. Capps, who also credited a renovated boardwalk, an expanded beachfront and popular entertainment programs with attracting visitors.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg also is doing well, and the neighboring Water Country USA is expecting to see record numbers, said Diane Centeno, a spokeswoman for Busch Gardens.
"It's a very popular driving destination," Miss Centeno said.
Jim Ricketts, director of the Department of Convention and Visitor Development for Virginia Beach, said hotel receipts from January through June were up 13 percent, compared with last year.
He said about 96 percent of the resort city's visitors drive there, and about 85 percent come from New York, the Baltimore-Washington area, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Virginia Beach also is popular among Canadians, Mr. Ricketts said.

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