Nancy Hellman, the Interim Director of the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the Sports Center has led to about 13,000 nighttime bookings.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Despite the pandemic, hotels at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront were getting more people through their doors in the first few months of 2021.

City leaders said the new sports center has a lot to do with it.

Even during a global pandemic, sporting events inside the new Virginia Beach Sports Center are going strong.

Nancy Hellman, the Interim Director of the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, is overseeing the 285,000 square-foot sports tournament facility.

Since the grand opening in October 2020, the Sports Center has held 26 events. 

In the short span of five months, about 25,000 athletes have walked into the center to compete.

RELATED: $68 million Virginia Beach Sports Center opens

“Sports has been one of our constant tourism sectors that’s been able to host meetings and events successfully,” said Hellman. “The meetings and conventions market has had to slow down due to the pandemic, our outdoor large festivals have slowed down, but our sports tournament business has been able to stay strong.”

They’ve had to take a few precautions to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“Obviously, it’s smaller capacities, but it’s been such an important business for our hotels, our restaurants and the health of our sports tourism economy,” she said.

That success is giving nearby hotels a much-needed boost.

Hellman said the sports center has led people to book an estimated 13,000 hotel room night stays in Virginia Beach.

“It’s definitely a much-needed win for our hotel community. It certainly helps fill some of the gaps that have been vacated otherwise, and we’re just really proud to be able to assist,” said Hellman.

During an interview with 13News Now Wednesday, John Zircle, the president of the Virginia Beach Hotel Association, said the Sports Center was helping hotels around it keep their heads above water. 

Zircle, who is also the general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, said the Sports Center across the street from his hotel has helped him attract more guests.

Zircle said these days, his hotel reaches 40-50% capacity. Without guests in town for the Sports Center, he said their capacity would be much lower, at around 20%, on average.

Data from Old Dominion University’s Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy shows the hotel industry in Hampton Roads suffered a 30% decline in revenue between 2019 and 2020.

Hellman said the Sports Center is still limiting the number the number of people who can enter, and following Gov. Ralph Northam’s other COVID-19 health guidelines. 

While events at the center are off and running, Hellman said opening it in the midst of the pandemic was a unique challenge.

As the spring and summer seasons approached, city leaders in Virginia Beach were trying to attract visitors.

Wednesday, they launched a new ad campaign to welcome people back.

“It’s a comprehensive plan ad campaign to celebrate families here in Virginia Beach, that’s our theme this year,” said Hellman.

“We’re really looking forward to welcoming back all the guests and visitors to our city.”