686,000 people paid to experience Colonial Williamsburg in 2010, a nearly 4 percent increase over disappointing 2009 numbers.
The increase is welcome news to city officials, who tightened belts last year after declining room and meal tax revenues accompanied a waning tourism industry.
“Tourism is a critical part of the local economy,” Mayor Clyde Haulman said. “We’re seeing some uptick in revenues and … we can only hope that portends for the future.”
The 4 percent attendance spike is a big rebound from 2009, when Colonial Williamsburg saw annual attendance decline by 7 percent — its largest drop in 47 years.
The city’s financial health was severely impacted by the decline. Projected revenues for the 2011 fiscal year declined by 3.2 percent from 2010. Revenues from hotel room taxes fell by $1 million between 2008 and 2009.
City Manager Jackson Tuttle said the city does not directly tie its projected revenues for any given fiscal year to paid attendance at Colonial Williamsburg. However, the bump in attendance is a good sign.
“Compared to other historical attractions, Colonial Williamsburg says a 4 percent increase is very good,” Tuttle said. “The Colonial Williamsburg numbers is another sign we’re seeing a comeback.”
City revenues peaked at $35 million during the 2008 fiscal year, declining through the current year in wake of the recession’s impact on consumer sentiment. The city council requested that departments trim their budgets and withhold cost-of-living salary increases. Three positions were trimmed from the city’s annual payroll.
As more tourists visit Williamsburg, logic would hold that the city’s financial health would also improve.
“I think people are starting to feel a little more confident in the economy,” Haulman said. “We’re beginning to see some change there.”
Haulman added that he saw a noticeable increase in activity in Colonial Williamsburg and Merchant’s Square around the end of the year.
Colonial Williamsburg also saw a 2 percent bump in support for its Annual Fund, valued at $14.3 million this year. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President Colin Campbell cited the historical destination’s active presence online — including its website and new media outlets such as YouTube and Twitter — as a more efficient way to raise the profile of special event programming.
“While there are still significant challenges to meet and overcome, I am encouraged by the Foundation’s results in 2010 as they show that Colonial Williamsburg’s imaginative programs and compelling experiences are resonating with visitors and guests,” Campbell said in a press release.