'Expect the funexpected' from Tourism Council in 2019

Staff writer

The Tourism Council voted to approve its 2019 marketing campaign and the budget to power it Tuesday.

The Tourism Council has mapped out an $8.5 million budget to bring overnight tourists to the Historic Triangle in 2019. A total of $6.6 million would fund the actual marketing effort. The remainder of the budget would go toward salaries and benefits ($1.1 million), sales ($533,710) and organizational support and administration ($205,420), according to a budget summary.

The campaign launches the “Expect the Funexpected” brand, and introduces a slew of new ways to reach more people in more places. The plan was touted as the means to make Williamsburg a year-round destination.

Though the Tourism Council voted unanimously to approve the campaign and a budget, several members voiced reservations about them — noting concerns about money allocated to marketing, confusion about the brand concept and a lack of attention given to the statewide 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution event.

“With WADMC we were focused on driving leisure in the summer. Now we can look at Williamsburg on a 12-month basis,” said Mary Winslow of Luckie and Co., a contracted marketing firm based in Birmingham, Alabama. “It’s about expanding our frequency and expanding our reach.”

Winslow referred to the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee, the Tourism Council’s predecessor.

Going into the new year, the game plan is to make Williamsburg seem like a place for unexpected experiences and fun through the Expect the Funexpected brand, which will create an identity for Williamsburg that emphasizes the city is a destination with some surprises up its sleeve. The scope of the region’s marketing efforts will expand, and the Williamsburg area will position itself as a top destination for leisure in the mid-Atlantic.

“It really helps frame a conversation about what we offer in a destination,” said Stephanie Naman, creative director at Luckie, of the brand concept. She said the idea went over well with a test audience.

The marketing plan would leverage the visitor’s preconceived notion of Williamsburg as a destination for grade-school field trips and turn it on its head.

“They’re really looking for unexpected experiences,” Naman said. “A lot of people think they know what Greater Williamsburg has to offer, and those ideas might’ve been formed on those fourth-grade field trips.”

Such experiences could include history tours, but on a Segway, learning about the science of roller coasters at Busch Gardens and walking tours of locations used for scenes in AMC’s show “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” as well as an emphasis on what someone can do in Williamsburg at night, such as brewery tours.

Visitors will be able to explore experiences and plan their trip with a new itinerary builder that will be put on the Visit Williamsburg website in 2019.

To get the word out, the marketing campaign will utilize a variety of media — television, print publications, digital — to reach both reliable markets and new ones throughout the year with greater frequency.

That includes expanding the destination’s social platforms to Pinterest and utilizing resources on existing platforms, such as Instagram stories. There also would be a photographer in residence.

Historically, successful markets for drawing visitors, such as Raleigh and Washington, D.C., will be joined by new markets in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, and New York City.

But there was criticism of the plan.

Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens, voiced concern about the amount of money that’s been earmarked for actual marketing, saying it seemed too low.

The plan doesn’t include anything specifically focused on the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, which Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation executive director Philip Emerson described as a “missed opportunity.”

“I’m not sure where that is or where it went,” he said. “You won’t get that chance in 2020.”

The 2019 Commemoration is a state-wide event that recognizes the 400th anniversary of several events key to the development of the United States that occurred at Jamestown in 1619, such as the arrival of the first Africans and the first meeting of an English representative legislative body in North America.

And Mickey Chohany wasn’t sold on the unexpected fun concept.

“I was a little bit underwhelmed by where we are on the ‘fun’ part,” said Chohany, who represents Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association. “The overall message … just didn’t capture me.”

Jody Puckett, the Tourism Council’s administrator, noted the campaign is conceptual, so there’s some room for tweaks.

“They’re ready to go, the concept of the creative is going to be fleshed out some more,” Puckett said.

The Tourism Council, which was created by Senate Bill 942 and is a sub-component of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, is tasked with marketing Williamsburg, James City and York to overnight tourists utilizing a 1-percent sales tax increase in those locations that was also created by the legislation. SB 942 also redirected the $2 transient occupancy tax, which was utilized by WADMC, to the Tourism Council.

The Tourism Council splits the total revenue 50-50 with the localities based on where the taxes were collected.

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

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