Friday, February 3, 2023

Tourism Alliance’s Revenue Picks Up; CEO Hopes for More Marketing Funds

After the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s revenue dropped $500,000 between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, revenue picked up slightly in 2011 despite a decrease in membership dues.

The Alliance’s fiscal year 2011, which ran from October 2011 to September 2012, saw an increase in revenue by $110,315 compared to 2010 according to its tax forms. Total revenue was more than $2.6 million in 2011. Membership dues dropped by $41,052 between the fiscal year 2011 and 2009, and government grants were down $507,273 between the same years.

Alliance President and CEO Dick Schreiber’s salary, including benefits, dropped less than $1,000 in 2011 versus 2009, but due to the decrease in revenue, is now at 10 percent of the Alliance’s total revenue. In 2009, it was just under 9 percent. His total salary in 2011 was $272,286.

Schreiber’s salary is in line with the amount paid to people working in the same capacity in other markets, but some other markets bring in higher revenues.

In Savannah, Ga., and Asheville, N.C. — the two markets the Alliance has deemed comparable to the Historic Triangle — chamber of commerce directors are paid $353,870 and $264,220, respectively, according to their tax forms. The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce’s total revenue for 2011 was more than $8.3 million, putting its CEO William Hubbard’s salary at about 4 percent of its revenue. In 2010, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s revenue was under $3.7 million, putting its president and CEO’s salary at about 7 percent.

The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, which was founded 207 years ago, acts as an “umbrella holding company,” Hubbard said. The Chamber works on big issues regarding local government and taxes but is also responsible for tourism, similar to the Alliance.

The actual Chamber operation is funded by membership dues from more than 2,200 members; it has a 92 percent member retention rate. The Alliance, which was founded 75 years ago and has more than 900 members, has about an 87 percent member retention rate. The Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau, a committee or council under the chamber, is funded by a bed tax that’s similar to the $2 per  room night tax in Williamsburg.

The Alliance’s funding comes from a number of sources, including membership dues and grants and about $1.5 million from James City County, the City of Williamsburg and York County. James City County and the City of Williamsburg each pay $650,000.

To compare to more local chambers: The Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau’s total revenue in 2011 was more than $5 million, with its president making $229,290—about 4.6 percent. The Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce’s revenue in 2011 was under $3.1 million and its president made $356,167, which is about 11.5 percent. The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce’s revenue for 2011 was under $2.5 million and its president made $210,019—about 8.5 percent.

In comparison to the five chambers mentioned, Schreiber’s salary is just above the median.

Salary and pay make up one of the challenges the Alliance faces, said Alliance Board of Directors member Robert Middaugh, who also serves as the James City County Administrator. Membership dues are not enough to cover employee pay and came in at about $384,000 in 2011. Middaugh would like to see a time when the Alliance becomes self-sustaining.

“I think that as our programs demonstrate their worth to those who invest in them, which means both some of our members and the municipalities are likely to be interested in increasing the investment,” Schreiber said.

The Alliance looked at times when visitors to the Historic Triangle were down and what other markets were focusing on and picked some times of year that are unique to this area. Christmas in Williamsburg, which started in 2009, is a big focus in November and December. Last year, the Historic Triangle’s overall tax revenues increased by 15.5 percent compared to 2008, the last year Christmas was not marketed.

Arts month is a focus for September and October as of 2010; last year tax revenues increased by 4.5 percent compared to 2009.

“We’re only part of the process but what we’ve done is to successfully bring everybody together to support the same effort,” Schreiber said.

Colonial Williamsburg also markets Christmastime and Busch Gardens markets its Christmas Town, both of which drive visitors to the area. Arts month was tied into Occasion for the Arts which has been marketing itself as well.

“It’s never going to be as successful as I’d like it to be. I think that we have a good strategy now in tourism marketing because it is unique to us and it’s not redundant with what other people do and it’s measurable,” Schreiber said, explaining that he always hopes marketing efforts and visitors will increase.

He hopes one day the mid-April to mid-June timeframe can be marketed because spring is such a beautiful season in the area. He also hopes a good master plan could turn arts month into a yearlong affair.

Schreiber said he will be retiring this year; he plans to work through the end of the year and on a month-to-month basis thereafter if a replacement is not in place by January.

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