Rainy weather dampened the enthusiasm of tourists during the third quarter of 2018. Fewer people visited local museums and tourists brought in less money last summer compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Historic Triangle’s tourism destination officials.
The $2 transient occupancy tax — which levies a $2 per-night tax in the area’s hotels — was down, while the meals tax revenue was up slightly in July, August and September last year when compared to revenue during the same period in 2017. Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation reported declines in ticketed admissions.
“I’m sure the rain had some sort of impact on visitation,” said Jody Puckett, temporary administrator of the Tourism Council, which is the arm of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance tasked with overseeing the region's marketing efforts.
In July it rained between 8 to 12 inches in the Williamsburg area, according to the National Weather Service. The area averages about 5 inches of rain in July. In the Williamsburg area, it rained 12 days in July, 10 days in August and 13 days in September. It rained about 4 inches in August and about 3 inches in September, according to Weather Underground.
The $2 transient occupancy tax brought in $925,586 in Williamsburg, James City and York from July to September. During the same period in 2017, the tax generated $995,370, according to data provided by Puckett, who added that the figures haven’t been confirmed yet.
Meals tax revenue increased slightly.
During the third quarter of 2018, the tax generated $5.9 million. During third quarter 2017, the tax generated $5.8 million, according to alliance data.
The meals tax rate is 4 percent in James City and York. In Williamsburg, the meals tax rate is 5 percent. The sales tax is an additional 7 percent in all three localities due to Senate Bill 942, which increased the sales tax by 1 percent to generate funds for tourism marketing by the Tourism Council in July. The meals tax didn’t increase due to SB 942.
“The summer season has traditionally been an important source of tourism revenue for the Williamsburg area. With so many attractions outdoors and the summer being prime time for family vacations, it makes sense that much of our revenue would come during that time of year,” Puckett said.
Puckett noted that with so many outdoor attractions — including Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens — bad weather can drag down the region as a whole.
Paid visitation generated $1.6 million for Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation during the period in 2018. At the same time in 2017, paid visitation brought in $1.8 million. In July, the foundation’s two museums saw a 8.5 percent drop in paid admissions. That’s 61,893 paid visitors versus the 67,644 paid visitors who stopped by in 2017, according to data provided by foundation spokeswoman Tracy Perkins.
There were 39,937 paid visitors in August, down from the 49,186 people who paid to visit in August 2017 — a decrease of 18.8 percent. And in September, 25,577 paid visitors came the museums, which was a 30.8 percent decrease from September 2018, when 36,980 people paid to visit.
Susan Bak, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation senior director of marketing and retail operations, likewise said rain was a factor in the decrease in paid admissions at the foundation’s museums in July, August and September.
When asked how rainy weather has an effect on visitation at the foundation's indoor museums, though both feature substantial outdoor exhibition space, Bak said weekenders and other visitors who plan their visits to the area on short notice pay attention to weather forecasts and their plans can change with the forecasts.Travelers to the area often see the area as a package deal — planning stops at museums, Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens — and may be less inclined to visit if bad weather may spoil part of the trip.
Another issue was the grand opening of the new American Revolution Museum in 2017 inflated the year’s admission figures. The museum got more advertising and media coverage than it does currently, which helped boost numbers during the period, Bak said.
A Busch Gardens spokeswoman declined to provide specific information about paid visitation at Busch Gardens and Water Country USA.
“We’re not able to provide park specific information due to our publicly traded status,” she wrote in an email.
Colonial Williamsburg was light on details, though foundation spokesman Joe Straw said ticketed admission was down.
“Colonial Williamsburg saw a drop in ticketed admission and revenue July-to-September versus the same period in 2017,” Straw said in an email. “Weather was one of several factors that affected visitation, however we remain optimistic that a strong start to the year combined with the holiday season will help make up some of the losses we experienced during the late summer.”
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_