Meals and lodging tax revenue, traditionally Rappahannock County’s best indicator of the health of the local tourism industry, has risen steadily since 2012.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30 of this year, revenue from taxes paid by restaurants, hotels and B&Bs on meals and overnight lodging was $214,072, according to figures compiled (though not yet audited) by the county treasurer’s office. That number is up about 5 percent over fiscal year 2013’s revenue of $203,540. Since 2011, when $145,366 in meals-and-lodging taxes was collected, the figure has increased by a whopping 47 percent.
In the town of Washington, where meals-and-lodging tax revenue is driven by the Inn at Little Washington, by far the largest tourism business in the county, fiscal year 2014’s total was $286,517, which is about 7 percent higher than 2013’s collection of $267,153.
With this year’s opening of a new Inn addition (the Parsonage), a new full-service restaurant and bar (Tula’s), weekend meal service at Foster Harris House and several new tourist homes — plus last year’s opening of the six-room White Moose Inn — it’s likely the town’s 2015 budget estimate of $360,000 for meals-and-lodging revenue won’t be far off the mark.
Autumn is traditionally the busiest season for visitors in Rappahannock — the annual Farm Tour and Festival goes on this weekend at Washington’s Avon Hall and venues around the county and the popular decade-old RAAC artists’ studio and gallery tour is just over a month away, with Trinity Church’s 57th annual house tour in between.
A table-to-farm dinner organized by the Outstanding in the Field group, which produces such on-farm events around the country for foodies, brought 100 diners to Sperryville last weekend, where Heritage Hollow Farm owners Mike and Molly Peterson hosted a dinner on the McNear farm they now operate in Old Hollow. Guests came from California, Colorado, Texas and Australia, Molly Peterson said, for a dinner prepared by chefs Tarver King and Nathan Shapiro of Potowmack Farm in Lovettsville.
The Castleton Festival, which lost founder Lorin Maazel when the maestro passed away during the final week of the annual summer opera and classical music festival in July, recently announced that it had received a $50,000 Virginia Tourism grant, its second in three years.
The funding is meant primarily to help Castleton and its grant partners (including Rappahannock and Fauquier counties, and Rappahannock Media, which owns this newspaper) to further develop its digital content — including live streaming of performances — and its online and social-network presence.
Last year, Castleton introduced several web-based innovations, including experimental (and much-watched) live streaming of several of its opera and concert productions, and short video profiles of local tourism-related businesses (including Washington’s Gadino Cellars, Central Coffee Roasters in Sperryville and Glen Gordon Manor in Huntly, the luxury B&B owned by chef Dayn Smith, who also provided meals and cooking classes for the festival).
Festival organizers say the Virginia Tourism grant is intended, in part, to help Castleton expand and focus those offerings, in hopes of bringing more visitors to its summer event, as well as its continuing fall-winter concert series.