Festivals hit pause
The Hampton Roads region is known for its popular festivals, from Virginia Beach’s Pungo Strawberry Festival and Suffolk Peanut Fest to the Virginia Arts Festival and the star-studded Something in the Water.
“We’ve got more festivals than Nero had,” says Kurt Krause, president and CEO of VisitNorfolk. For Norfolk alone, tourism means more than $887 million in annual economic stimulus, according to 2018 Virginia Tourism Corp. data. For Virginia Beach, which saw $24 million in benefits from SITW’s successful first year, 2018 tourism brought in $1.6 billion.
Of course, COVID-19 canceled everything in 2020. But organizers are cautiously optimistic about the future. “We’re planning a full, vibrant 2021 season,” says Robert Cross, executive director of the Norfolk-based Virginia Arts Festival, which generated $20 million in 2019. “We’re also giving ourselves the ability to pivot and re-think how we can bring entertainment back in the safest way possible.”
Krause says, “Organizations are planning events, booking performers, but there’s a huge asterisk attached,” adding that some traditionally indoor events may go outdoors. “The key word is caution, and we have to see where we are in May , when the season heats up. But even with the Christmas in Smithfield show at the end of 2021, people are being tentative.”