From ‘humdrum to happening:’ Richmond named a top 10 U.S. travel destination for 2018

Another trophy for the virtual trophy case, another notch in Richmond’s ever-expanding proverbial belt.

Lonely Planet, a global travel guide publisher, has named Richmond among its top 10 U.S. destinations for 2018. Specifically, Richmond ranked seventh on this year’s “Best in the U.S.” list. Described by Lonely Planet as “flipped from humdrum to happening,” Richmond joins the likes of California’s Redwood Coast, Florida’s Space Coast, Southeastern Utah, Kentucky Bourbon Country, Minneapolis (this year’s Super Bowl destination) and others as the places to visit for a variety of reasons.

They’re things that many Richmond residents and tourists already know, local tourism officials say: the burgeoning food scene, an even bigger craft beer and beverage movement, a growing appreciation for the James River and its natural resources, and an arts community that runs the gamut from collegiate to world-renowned, all woven within the fabric of a rich, citywide historic narrative that continues to play out today.

Even Hollywood has fallen for Richmond from time to time.

“Richmond has received a lot of accolades that we are very much worthy of,” said Erin Bagnell, public relations manager for Richmond Region Tourism, and “(we are) really, really pleased … to continue to be noticed by national media outlets and travel authorities.”

Specifically, Lonely Planet highlights bustling Scott’s Addition in its glossy Spring 2018 guide — Pages 48 and 49, to be exact — but an online write-up also points to other attractions, such as the Capital Trail, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Patrick Henry’s re-enactment speeches at St. John’s Church in Church Hill, Quirk Hotel, the American Civil War Museum and more.

The author behind the Richmond content is a travel writer and Lonely Planet guidebook writer Amy Balfour, a Richmond native (and Douglas Freeman High graduate) who now lives in Lexington. Balfour said she noticed more folks talking about Richmond about six or seven years ago, including her own friends and family, when she’d return to visit. While the places she remembers from growing up here — Maymont, Joe’s Inn and Sidewalk Cafe — are still around, she said the revitalization of areas like Scott’s Addition surprised her.

Growing up in Richmond during the 1980s and ’90s, “it just seemed sort of stagnant,” she said. “It didn’t seem to change much.”

Now, with new breweries and culinary experiences happening all the time, coupled with the region’s newfound appreciation for the James River and all it has to offer, “there’s this pop of energy,” Balfour said, and “more civic pride.”

Richmond Region Tourism President and CEO John F. “Jack” Berry Jr. said the accolades are rewarding in that they pay off in tangible ways. For example, five or six years ago, he said, the highest-occupancy day of the week for hotels in the Richmond region was Wednesday, thanks to midweek business travel and folks in town for conventions.

These days, however, it’s Saturday, and that can be attributed to travelers who flock to this city on the weekends to take advantage of festivals, sporting events, river activities, conventions, the latest high-profile VMFA exhibition, new restaurants — or sometimes all of the above. That translates to more money for the region from meal and hotel taxes.

For example, Berry points to VMFA’s Picasso exhibit in 2011 as one for the record books and a catalyst for the upswing in Richmond tourism efforts.

“Picasso came and we never looked back,” he said, and that ability to attract unique experiences to Richmond “just puts us on the map as one of the top tourist destinations on the East Coast.”

Just what’s going on in Richmond and why the city continues to earn these distinctions will be the subject of the Retail Merchants’ Friday Forum on March 2 at Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library. Panelists will include Lonely Planet’s Eastern U.S. Destination Editor Trisha Ping, Lonely Planet’s Balfour and Katie Barr Cornish of New York-based Eleven Six PR, which works with Richmond Region Tourism.

“There’s such a pride in the destination, and that’s the transformation over the last decade,” Berry said. “It’s rewarding, but it’s what we all know: We all love living here.”

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