Doubling Down on Tourism Success, Chesterfield Seeks To Attract More Out-of-Town Visitors

Over the better part of the last decade, Chesterfield has become one of the top tourist destinations in Virginia and the broader mid-Atlantic.

In 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, visitors to Chesterfield accounted for $535.9 million in spending – an increase of 11% over the past five years – and $26.1 million in local tax revenue.

For perspective, the latter number is equivalent to 5 cents on the county’s real estate tax rate.

The tourism industry also supported nearly 5,600 jobs and $148.8 million in wages during the same period.

Between 2014 and 2022, Chesterfield’s annual collections of transient occupancy (hotel) taxes increased by 63% from $4.1 million to $6.6 million.

Sports tourism remains a major driver of commercial activity in Chesterfield – particularly at River City Sportsplex, which has generated $276.5 million in economic impact for the Richmond region since 2018 and made the county one of the most sought-after locations on the east coast for sports-related events.

During fiscal year 2022, Chesterfield hosted 63 such events that included 253,000 attendees, generating $34.4 million in direct economic impact and $1.3 million in local tax revenue through an ongoing partnership with Richmond Region Tourism.

Chesterfield already has booked 75 sports events for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1.

Still, county leaders see an opportunity to build on those successes by fully leveraging Chesterfield’s geographic advantages, amenities, attractions and natural resources to attract even more destination-based travel and keep a greater share of visitor spending in the county. 

“We need to tell the story about what’s in our own backyard,” said J.C. Poma, who was hired in April as the county’s first-ever executive director of sports, visitation and entertainment, during a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Chesterfield has a number of venues to lure potential visitors: Pocahontas State Park, Henricus Historical Park, Metro Richmond Zoo, SwimRVA aquatic center, Richmond Volleyball Club, The First Tee, Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education, the Children’s Museum and Virginia State University’s Multi-Purpose Center.

The county is home to a growing brewery and winery scene, premier public golf courses, venues for weddings or other large events, many well-preserved historical sites, a high-quality local park system and miles of waterfront trails along the James and Appomattox rivers. 

The Lake, a mixed-use development on Genito Road featuring a surf park, and the proposed 43-mile Fall Line Trail originating at the Appomattox River will be other unique attractions.

Chesterfield also has 49 hotels and 4,249 rooms, or 22% of the total number in the Richmond region, with several more on the way.  

“Having more hotel rooms will give us more room for growth,” Poma said. “We know we’re going to get people here because of what we have in the county, but to keep them here, we have to do things that make our destination shine.”

Chesterfield’s $540 million bond referendum package that was approved last November includes funding for construction of four more fields (for a total of 16) at River City Sportsplex, as well as improvements to the 316-acre Horner Park and enhancements to passive recreation in county conservation areas.

Future projects include construction of two new boat ramps that could position it to host fishing tournaments in the future, further broadening its sports tourism portfolio, while increasing public access to water resources for boating and other recreational activities.

This summer and fall, Poma will work with Parks and Recreation staff and a third-party consultant to evaluate Chesterfield’s existing venues and amenities, identify gaps and create a strategic plan for future facility development. 

He plans to overhaul Experience Chesterfield as an umbrella platform for local attractions, while building a new sports tourism-focused brand known as “Play Chesterfield.”

“What excites me is the unique assets we have and will have in the future in each of our districts,” Poma added.

Beyond economic activity and tax revenue, the assets that make Chesterfield a great place to visit also add to the enjoyment and overall quality of everyday life for its more than 370,000 residents.

That’s a win-win.