Tourism is big business in the Historic Triangle. Local officials hope tourism will be a bigger business with the Tourism Council, which was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly early this year and now stands on the cusp of its inaugural marketing campaign.
Senate Bill 942, introduced by Sen. Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment in January, sought to up the economic ante by creating a new regional marketing entity.
Armed with revenue from a 1-percent sales tax increase in Williamsburg, James City and York, as well as the $2 transient occupancy revenue stream utilized by the Tourism Council’s underwhelming predecessor, the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee, the Tourism Council was seen by officials as a potential game changer.
A game changer to the tune of up to $12 million, the figure officials estimate the taxes will bring in for marketing in 2019. The Tourism Council looks to have four times the money WADMC did annually. The Tourism Council splits total revenue (estimated to be up to $24 million) in half with Williamsburg, James City or York, depending on where the taxes are collected.
It’s been a bumpy road, though. SB 942 caught the ire of area residents and some public officials, who panned it as a closed-door deal that raised taxes without taxpayers’ input.
During the past year, key leaders in the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Council (which oversees the Tourism Council) Karen Riordan and Bob Harris left their posts as president and CEO in August and Tourism Council interim executive director in October, respectively. Those departures came amid an effort to nail down exactly how revenue streams between the localities, state and Tourism Council made for a learning curve.
Tweaked to omit groceries from taxation, the bill became law in July. An ad hoc task force of local officials was formed to get the organization on its feet, and the task force gave way to the Tourism Council -- a body of elected officials tourism industry representatives -- which approved an $8.5 million budget and marketing campaign for 2019 in December.
While it remains to be seen whether the Tourism Council is successful in 2019, 2018 was the year the region’s tourism industry got plenty of money to facilitate success.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_