Looking ahead to 2019: The Tourism Council

Staff writer

The Tourism Council kicks off its first marketing campaign in 2019. With more money and a greater reach than its predecessor, local officials hope 2019 is the beginning of a new era for the region’s tourism industry.

The Tourism Council begins its highly anticipated marketing campaign this month, having given the nod to an $8.5 million budget — $6.6 million of which is for marketing — and the plan itself last month.

“This is the largest marketing expenditure we’ve ever had for the Williamsburg area,” said Dave Potter, the marketing communications director for the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, which oversees the Tourism Council, at the Tourism Council’s meeting Dec. 18.

The goal is to attract overnight tourists to the region through revenue generated by a 1 percent sales tax surcharge created by Senate Bill 942 last year. The legislation also redirects the existing $2 transient occupancy tax to the Tourism Council from its predecessor the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee.

Tourism Council officials anticipate up to $12 million will be collected for the organization’s usage in 2019. A similar amount will be directed to Williamsburg, James City or York to do what they will based on where the taxes were collected. The legislation requires total revenue be split 50-50 between the Tourism Council and localities. WADMC could only muster about $3 million annually to market the region.

To get the ball rolling, the state disbursed $4.4 million collected since SB 942 went into effect in July to the Tourism Council for initial expenditures, said Ruth Larson, a member of the Tourism Council and James City supervisor in December.

“For our destination, that’s really a big game changer,” said Ron Kirkland, the executive director of the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association. He spoke during the association’s annual meeting Dec. 12.

The new year brings a new look. The Tourism Council’s contracted marketing partners cooked up the “Expect the Funexpected” brand — which seeks to casts Williamsburg as a destination for unexpected experiences.

The brand is a departure from “Family Funologist” concept previously used. “Expect the Funexpected” is expected to be more refined and more broadly appealing in comparison to the Funologist, in which a 9-year-old Dr. Mira Madison marketed curated trips to the Williamsburg region.

The region’s marketing effort will also shift from one that focused on summer visitation to advertising Williamsburg as a place for fun year-round in both reliable markets and new ones. There are also plans for greater personalization for visitors with a trip planner and more focus on attracting specific types of visitors, such as business groups and families with different interests.

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

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette