GWCTA seeks to streamline operations with restructuring

Staff writer

The Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance is switching things up a bit.

When Senate Bill 942 created the Tourism Council under the authority of the alliance in July, there was a chance to do some housekeeping to make the alliance run a little more smoothly, said Jeanne Zeidler, the chairwoman of the alliance’s board of directors.

“We’re still in the transition. Senate Bill 942 offers an opportunity to do some restructuring of the alliance and to also work on rebranding the organization,” she said.

Under the overall direction of the alliance’s board, which existed prior to the restructuring, the alliance now consists primarily of a new Business Council and the Tourism Council. The former takes the lead in chamber of commerce-like activities, while the latter is tasked with marketing the Williamsburg area as a tourism destination.

Essentially, the restructuring keeps the organization’s name while moving around existing employees.

The move aligns the alliance’s staff more consistently with its mission. The marketing and sales team fall under the Tourism Council, while the business services team falls under the Business Council. Each will be led by an executive director.

In August, the alliance appointed Terry Banez as the interim executive director of the Business Council. Bob Harris, the alliance’s former vice president of tourism, served as the Tourism Council’s interim executive director until he left the alliance in October. His Tourism Council position is vacant while the council seeks a permanent director, as is the vice president of tourism position.

Reorganizing employees better aligns revenue streams with the groups and people who will work with them. The restructuring also makes things easier on third-party firms that assist the alliance in marketing and other tasks by ending the need for separate contracts within the group, Zeidler said.

Under the old regime, marketing, promotion and sales employees worked with the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee and its revenue provided by the $2 transient occupancy tax to market the region as a summer destination. The tax generates about $3 million annually.

The sports tourism marketing, convention and group marketing as well as some social media employees and off-season marketing were funded through revenue provided by local government allocations. Williamsburg, James City and York gave the chamber $800,000, $418,920 and $438,600 as part of their fiscal year 2019 budgets, respectively.

Now, all those groups and efforts are under the Tourism Council. The Tourism Council replaced WADMC as the alliance’s tourism marketing arm.

Tourism Council officials project the taxes used by the entity as revenue sources — a 1 percent increase to local sales tax and the $2 transient occupancy tax — will bring in up to $12 million in 2019. The Tourism Council approved its inaugural budget at $8.5 million for the year.

Funding from the localities isn’t included in the budget approved by the Tourism Council. What’s to be done with that money hasn’t been determined, Zeidler said.

The 1 percent tax increase went into effect when SB 942 became law in July 2018. The legislation redirected the $2 transient occupancy tax to the Tourism Council from WADMC, which was dissolved.

The “vast majority” of the localities’ allocations will go to the Tourism Council moving forward, Zeidler said. A smaller portion of the money provided by localities will go to the Business Council, though the bulk of the Business Council’s revenue will come through dues and sponsorships.

While Zeidler insisted the chamber’s parts were able to work together under the old system, she said there was a perception that wasn’t the case, and the restructuring goes toward addressing that.

It’s unclear exactly what the restructuring’s fiscal impact may be. At this point, the restructuring moves around existing employees, so it is essentially budget neutral. Directors could decide to alter the existing plan once they assume their positions. But given that the chamber will be handling more money with the SB 942 revenue, it’s likely more staff will be hired, Zeidler said.

The proposed structure of the alliance consists of 19 employees. Seven of those positions are currently open. The Tourism Council would have 10 employees. Five employees would work at the Business Council. Four employees are shared between the two councils as a cost-saving measure. Total payroll is pegged at $1.3 million for 2019.

The lone casualty of the restructuring is the president and CEO position, now vacant but formerly occupied by Karen Riordan, who left the chamber for a similar position in Myrtle Beach in August.

The president and CEO position was removed because it was a redundancy with the creation of the directors of the Tourism Council and Business Council, both of whom report to the board of directors, Zeidler said. The chamber hopes to fully complete restructuring within the next couple months.

While not involved in the restructuring himself, James City County Administrator Scott Stevens said the effort appears to benefit the region.

The move to focus business support and tourism marketing under separate councils with their own leaderships, under the overall umbrella of the alliance, appears like an efficient way to better conduct those missions, Stevens said.

“That makes sense from where I am,” he said. “It sounds like they’re headed in the right direction.”

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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