BY CAROL VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —
The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce helped nearly 277,000 people in person, by phone or email, and through its newly redesigned website in 2022, an increase of around 8% over 2021, Executive Director Evelyn Shotwell told the Town Council this week.
Additionally, the chamber reached nearly 18 million people via online platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram — a 445% increase over 2021.
Meals taxes collected on Chincoteague help pay for the chamber’s operations.
Chincoteague is a major draw for visitors to Accomack County.
Shotwell noted an economic impact study found Accomack County in 2021 (the most recent data available) had a 42.6% increase in visitor spending over 2020 and a 25% increase over 2019.
The Eastern Shore was the third fastest growing region for tourism in Virginia, according to the study.
Revenue from tourism in Accomack County amounted to $168.5 million in 2021, including $69 million for lodging, $44.5 million for food and beverages, $17.1 million for recreation, $24.1 million for transportation, and $13.7 million in retail spending.
“Of course, Chincoteague is a large part of those numbers,” Shotwell said, adding, “… Our goal is to market the island and that’s what we do.”
She predicted tourism will increase if a bill now being considered in the General Assembly is approved.
“The big news that we are all waiting to hear is if the Chincoteague pony becomes the official pony of the state of Virginia. If that happens, we look forward to increased tourism. We’ve already received extra earned media from that, because we’ve been getting lots of (media inquiries),” Shotwell said, adding, “I look forward to a lot of good press from that if it passes.”
Del. Rob Bloxom and Sen. Lynwood Lewis sponsored the legislation.
The chamber last year worked with more than 50 media outlets, according to Shotwell.
“This media is not media we paid for; it’s media that we earned,” due to the chamber’s assistance or to making direct pitches, Shotwell said.
Additionally, the chamber spent around $24,500 on paid advertising. Through negotiating lower prices, the value was $68,500, she said.
Federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act paid for additional tourism-related projects including advertising on WVEC television, a website rebuild, programming and advertising on WBOC television, an interactive map, an outdoor kiosk at the chamber office, and phone apps, among others.
“We were able to place some broadcast TV ads with … this money that we never would have been able to do otherwise,” Shotwell said.
In August and September alone, advertising on WVEC reached nearly 3 million people (94% of the Hampton Roads population), Shotwell said.
From Jan. 3 through Jan. 20, the ads reached 2.41 million people in Hampton Roads.
The television campaign will end in April.
Additionally, the chamber holds ribbon-cuttings for new businesses and networking events, job fairs, workshops, and training for businesses, along with publishing an annual visitor guide.
It also sponsors three annual festivals and the Christmas parade.