RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — This past year has been a ‘home run’ for tourism, but those consumers aren’t running home — they’re running to Richmond.

Central Virginia laid out the welcome mat for visitors in 2022. According to data recently released by Richmond Region Tourism, the community witnessed a 22% increase in visitor spending this past year compared to the year before. It’s an uptick regional leaders largely attribute to the locally booming local sports tourism industry.

Visitors spent $3.5 billion across the metro Richmond community last year — that’s up from the $2.8 billion spent the year prior. This data was collected across seven jurisdictions including Chesterfield County, Hanover County, New Kent County, Colonial Heights, the City of Richmond, Ashland and Henrico County.

Richmond Region Tourism’s CEO, Jack Berry, said the community’s “MVP” was the sports industry.

“That’s one of our secrets of our success,” Berry smiled.

Recent data demonstrated that a whopping 68% of our area’s group bookings came specifically from sports tournaments, and two of every three event visitors are here for a sports tournament or championship.

“It’s part of the ‘tourism revenge’ that people were bottled up during the pandemic,” Berry said.

Visitor spending also helped support more than 27,000 jobs last year. Of Richmond Region Tourism’s evaluated jurisdictions, Henrico saw the largest amount of visitor spending dollars come in; followed by the City of Richmond, then Chesterfield County.

“Once the floodgates opened, people flocked to come here,” Berry said.

Berry highlighted Chesterfield’s River City Sports Complex and Henrico’s highly anticipated Sports and Events Center, as well as the recently expanding pickleball movement. He believes Central Virginia’s ‘southern hospitality,’ charm and motivation to keep growing all help the community keep an eye on the prize.

“The momentum has to continue for tourism,” Berry explained.

Some additional signals of the focus on expanding sports tourism in our region include the largest pickleball facility in the state headed to Henrico soon, new hockey rinks headed to Chesterfield, and Henrico being chosen to host the next Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship.