Busch Gardens tourism on rebound

Due to decreased tourism in the city of Williamsburg, the historic destination is getting an update.

The Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee is partnering with the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance to revive branding and marketing strategies in order to speed up recovery from the 2008 recession, during which tourism levels in Williamsburg dropped drastically.

“Tourism took a big hit during the recession of 2008,, and we’ve been gradually clawing our way back, although not as quickly as many of us had hoped,” Mayor Clyde Haulman, who sits on the WADMC board, said. “For the city of Williamsburg, our tourism revenues, which are an important part of our fiscal picture, come from room, meal and sales taxes, and while those have grown, they have not grown very rapidly.”

Signs of decreased tourism and a stunted economy are visible in recent reports of lower hotel occupancy — indicative of overall shorter visits – and an increase in timeshare usage. Part of the problem is that Williamsburg attracts mainly leisure travelers as opposed to business travelers, according to Alliance Senior Vice President of Tourism Bob Harris. Williamsburg does not have large corporations that hold conferences in hotels and drive up business.

Leisure travelers are very responsive to changes in the economy, so when the recession hit, visits declined.

“We’re very dependent on the family leisure traveler who comes to our destination,” Harris said. “Starting in 2008, consumer confidence has really just been up and down.”

The solution WADMC and the Alliance are relying on is an updated assessment of the Williamsburg brand, which involves re-evaluating marketing and advertising strategies.

Carl Lum, WADMC chair and president of Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, said that, until last year, destination research had not been completed in several years.

“Our current advertising campaign is about four years old, so we’re going through a process now,” Lum said. “We want to make it clear to consumers that there’s a lot of different things to do in the Historic Triangle and there’s a lot of good reasons to come visit the Historic Triangle.”

Specifically at Busch Gardens, Lum is optimistic that new attractions will dramatically drive up visits. The Food and Wine Festival was so successful last year that two extra weekends will be added this spring. Other additions are a new show called “London Rocks” and a new ride in Water Country that will feature a 500-foot-long slide

Busch Gardens has been a significant part of attracting tourists who may not be interested in the historic value of Colonial Williamsburg. While Colonial Williamsburg has always been a draw for travelers interested in history, efforts are being made to expand the audience Williamsburg appeals to. Marketing specifically geared toward promoting the arts, sports and the holiday season aims to attract this wider tourist clientele.

“When people think of Williamsburg — and this clearly came out in the research that was done  — they think history,” Haulman said. “I think what we need to do is think about how do you approach [those not interested in history] with a message that says, ‘Yes, we’re history, but we’re also a lot more.’ And that’s where things like eco-tourism, the arts, just the wide range of things that you can do while you’re here, need to be part of that message.”


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Senior staff writer Sarah Caspari '15 is an English and Latin American studies major from Montvale, N.J. She was previously Chief Staff Writer, Variety Editor and Associate Variety Editor.


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