Tourism Council votes to set aside funds for reserve, tourism development

Staff writer

The Tourism Council voted to set aside funding from localities for a tourism development fund and $750,000 for an operations reserve at its meeting Tuesday.

Williamsburg, James City and York provide annual funding to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance, which oversees the Tourism Council. The localities gave the alliance $800,000, $418,920 and $438,600, respectively, as part of their fiscal year 2019 budgets. The localities provided a total of $1,657,520.

The majority of that funding goes to the Tourism Council. It hasn’t been determined exactly what the money will be used for, or exactly how much money will be moved by the motion because the alliance’s books haven’t been finalized for 2018 yet. Officials estimate the figure at $1.6 million. The final number could be more or less, said Jeff Wassmer, Tourism Council chairman and York County supervisor.

That money is slated for tourism development, which could be used for tourism infrastructure, such as new sports facilities to host events in the Williamsburg area, or incentives to attract public-private partnerships, with the ultimate goal of attracting more visitors, Wassmer said.

“The municipalities have expressed interest in creating some type of product development fund,” he said.

In December, the Tourism Council approved a $8.5 million budget for 2019. The Tourism Council expects revenue of $16.4 million in 2019, according to a projection dated Jan. 9. The figure includes revenue from the 1-percent sales tax increase and $2 transient occupancy tax provided by Senate Bill 942 and localities’ allocations.

Though ultimately the tourism development fund was established on an unanimous voice vote, there were some reservations about the move.

“I think we need to strategically look at what our spending is in 2019 and how that relates to competition,” said Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation executive director and Tourism Council member Philip Emerson, suggesting it might be too early to determine the Tourism Council’s ability to invest in tourism development.

The Tourism Council also voted to hold $750,000 in a reserve account for unanticipated future operational expenses.

“That will help us transition the year if we need to,” Wassmer said.

In other news, the Tourism Council continues to search for its executive director, who will oversee alliance employees who market the region to tourists and report to the Tourism Council.

The contracted search firm, SearchWide Global, plans to find seven or eight potential candidates for the job. The Tourism Council’s search committee will narrow the field to four or five candidates this month, Tourism Council member and Williamsburg Vice Mayor Doug Pons said.

The Tourism Council spent $25,000 to hire SearchWide Global.

The plan is for interviews to be conducted and a candidate selected for the job in February, Pons said. Given the budget, responsibilities and employees involved with the job, the executive director is expected to have a salary of $180,000 to $220,000.

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

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