Colonial Williamsburg tourism at 47-year low
February 19, 2010
A decline in Colonial Williamsburg ticket sales and annual fund donations performance has led to the development of a partnership between Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary.
According to recently released numbers, ticket sales in 2009 declined 7 percent from 2008, the greatest drop in 47 years. 660,000 admission tickets were sold, although free walk-ins, including student visitors and pass holders, brought the visitor count to roughly 1.7 million. CW area buses recorded 400,000 fewer passengers than the previous year. Tickets for evening programs and carriage rides in 2009 totaled 244,000 compared with 301,000 tickets in 2008. The Foundation’s fundraising donations, managed by the annual CW Fund, also took a 4.5 percent hit. 
While attendance and fundraising lagged, investment performance remained quite strong with an impressive return of 20 percent. Endowment increased in market value by $84 million to $695 million.
The Foundation cited financial pressure as the main factor for the slump in tourism. With the ongoing recession, attendance has dwindled as tourists and schools decide to spend less discretionary income. As a result, fewer school groups, tourist groups and leisure visitors have visited CW, although internet visits grew by 12 percent.
“The economic environment in 2009 was extremely challenging,” CW Foundation President and CEO Colin Campbell said. “But there is reason to be optimistic as we look ahead.”
Difficult economic times have led to increased cooperation.
“The College has certainly taken a more active role in efforts to market the region and promote William and Mary as an important partner of the Historic Triangle,” College spokesman Brian Whitson said in an e-mail. “Working together with our colleagues from different agencies — and finding opportunities to join our efforts for the greater good — is a priority for [College] President [Taylor] Reveley.”
An economic recovery agenda is in place, which incorporates the College’s support.
“We currently meet monthly with our public relations and marketing colleagues at Colonial Williamsburg and the city,” Whitson said. “It’s not a formal meeting but simply an opportunity to gather over coffee and discuss what we’re working on, talk through upcoming projects, and think about where we might be able to join forces.”
City spokesperson Kate Hoving participates in monthly meetings with marketing and public relations representatives from the College, CW and the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance to share information and ideas about ways to promote the city.
“The College has always been a part of the destination’s marketing efforts, but this partnership is a real asset and another way we can work together,” Hoving said.
In January, CW launched a new national marketing campaign called “Be Part of the Story.”
“Advertising is designed to inspire national audiences to discover the breadth of Colonial Williamsburg’s offerings,” CW Director of Public Affairs Tom Shrout said.
The Economic Development Authority has also taken a part of the recovery by starting monthly business roundtables, which support local businesses by hearing their concerns and ideas.
GWCTA Director of Linda Stanier said the Alliance is working to move CW tourism forward.
“We have proposed that [the] Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee undertake a research study of competitive destinations and their marketing initiatives — and have pledged $10,000 in seed money for that research” she said.
CW low tourism rate should be a reason for concern, according to Hoving.
“Tourism and its impact on the local economy is something that affects everyone,” she said.
fn1. _This sentence has been corrected. It mistakenly states the endowment had increased from $84 million to $695 million. However, the endowment actually increased by $84 million to $695 million._
fn.2 _This sentence has been corrected. It mistakenly states that the number of admissions ticket sales in 2009 was 600,000. The correct number is 660,000.
fn. 3 _This sentence has been corrected. It mistakenly used the term ‘profits’ rather than ‘donations’ when referring to CW’s fundraising.