Virginia Beach as a greener vacation destination
Virginia Beach, the most populous city in the state of Virginia, was recently featured on Mother Nature Network (MNN), highlighting the various environmental efforts by the city – from “Virginia Green Travel Month,” which was started this year by Governor Tim Kaine, to the xeriscaping garden on “Mount Trashmore.” (Read the MNN article to learn more.)
We asked Pamela Lingle, Communications Manager of Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) for more inside scoop on what the destination is doing to attract lovers of the environment and what’s in store for Virginia Green initiatives.
TIES: What initiatives do you have to promote awareness of protected areas in the Virginia Beach area among visitors?
Pamela: The CVB develops and promotes ecotourism packages incorporating Virginia Green businesses, and eco-friendly activities such as hiking, biking and kayaking excursions through our state parks.
There is nothing like the opportunity to experience wildlife first hand to make someone appreciate it. First Landing State Park has 19 miles of hiking and biking trails, and the Chesapeake Bay Visitors Center features environmental and historic exhibits on nature-based tourism in Virginia Beach.
Imagine kayaking through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and seeing marsh hawks, red foxes and loggerhead turtles, even have a pod of dolphins glide past you. These animals are all in their natural habitat.
The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center’s new exhibit, Restless Planet, opens this summer showcasing four diverse habitats that once thrived in Virginia and now exist in more remote parts of the planet.
TIES: What roles does tourism play in Virginia Beach’s overall sustainability efforts?
Pamela: Many of the hospitality industry’s green efforts go hand-in-hand with the City’s other environmentally-friendly improvements. For example, Virginia Beach has implemented an oceanfront recycling program in the resort area with TFC Recycling, which started with a very successful pilot program last summer. HRT, the City’s public transportation authority has replaced most of the resort area’s seasonal trolley transportation with new hybrid-electric shuttle buses.
Recycling on the beach
The Virginia Beach tourism and hospitality industry has really embraced the Virginia Green program, a partnership between the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association to promote environmentally-friendly practices in all aspects of Virginia’s tourism and hospitality industry.
Governor Kaine – Virginia Green Destination
Now with over 90 Virginia Green certified hospitality businesses, Virginia Beach is the state’s first “Virginia Green Destination” among other “first’s” including the first Virginia Green certified convention center, restaurant and event. These businesses, most of them locally owned and operated, voluntarily chose to join Virginia Green through a charge led by the Virginia Beach Green Hospitality Team to encourage businesses to adopt green practices and bring awareness to this statewide program.
TIES: What are some of the short-term and long-term goals for making Virginia Beach a more sustainable destination?
Pamela: Currently the Resort Advisory Commission‘s GREEN Committee has a goal to reach 100 Virginia Green certified hospitality businesses this summer. Recent efforts held around earth day 2009 resulted in over 30 new businesses on board.
A partner in the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program since November 2007, the Virginia Beach Convention Center (VBCC)’s goal was to implement 20 cost-saving measures by the end of 2008. The VBCC’s efforts included measuring and tracking the energy performance of the facilities, implementing a plan to achieve energy savings, spreading the word about the importance of energy efficiency to facility staff and the community, and highlighting the achievements with recognition offered through the program.
VBCC Green Banner
The VBCC has saved over $204,000 between February 2008 and January 2009. During this time period, when compared to the previous year, the VBCC used 22% less power, 40% less gas and conserved 3.9 million gallons of water. The facility also diverted 77 tons of waste from the landfill to a local recycling center.
The VBCC is actively pursuing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and has a LEED Accredited Professional on staff to coordinate these efforts. Initially, the building’s green initiatives were a bonus for prospective meeting planners, but now eco-friendly facilities have become a requirement for many meetings. The VBCC continues to develop and expand long-term green efforts to stay ahead of the game as a destination.
TIES: How are the local communities in Virginia Beach involved in the efforts to make it a more sustainable destination?
Pamela: Virginia Beach has a strong agricultural community providing support for local sustainable food. Memorial Day through Labor Day, Croc’s 19th Street Bistro hosts a Farmers Market in their parking lot with a couple dozen local food vendors including family farms, watermen and restaurateurs providing local, fresh and sustainable foods.
Many restaurants purchase their produce locally to use in special menu items depending on what is in season. Working with regional seafood experts, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center launched the Sustainable Seafood Program in 2008 to help consumers make sustainable seafood choices. Participating restaurants agree to offer customers fish and shellfish from healthy and well-managed wild populations or environmentally sound aquaculture operations.
TIES: Tell us about some of your partner organizations: how are they supporting Virginia Beach to become more sustainable?
Pamela: The CVB works closely with the local Restaurant Association and Hotel Motel Association, both of whom are Virginia Green partners encouraging their member businesses to adopt green practices. We recently co-hosted a mini-tradeshow at the VBCC bringing in local environmentally-friendly vendors and representatives from the Virginia Green program to educate Virginia Beach restaurant and hotel owners on how easy and inexpensive it can be to adopt green practices.
The Convention Sales Team recently took the next step by announcing two new partnerships with Convene Green and the Green Meeting Industry Council, helping strengthen Virginia Beach’s green initiatives as a destination.
TIES: What challenges have you encountered so far, and what solutions do you plan to implement?
Pamela: For the most part, all our partners have been on board and eager to participate. In our efforts to communicate the importance of adopting green practices and becoming a green destination, we were initially met with some resistance including concerns that going green was too expensive and was “just a trend.” With a few excellent examples of businesses who successfully decided to go green, such as the Founder’s Inn and Spa and Croc’s 19th Street Bistro, others realized just how easy it is and how profitable it can be.
Not only is this the right thing to do for the environment, it makes business sense. The cost of environmentally-friendly products and supplies has come down so much; it has become easier for businesses to make eco-friendly purchasing decisions. Green practices reduce operating costs and add to the bottom line as consumers are demanding businesses to be more responsible.
>> For more information, contact: Pamela Lingle, Communications Manager, Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Phone: (757) 385-6628, Email: Plingle@vbgov.com