The idea of freedom — specifically the freedom to choose a vacation style — is the Williamsburg area’s key to attracting tourists and repeat visitors to the area, according to research conducted by Luckie & Company.
Using the concept of freedom and citizens’ abilities to choose how to spend their time and vacation dollars, Luckie formulated three pillars of attraction Williamsburg can use to draw in visitors: freedom to have fun, freedom to be curious and freedom to relax.
Luckie Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Jay Waters presented information Tuesday to about 50 members of the tourism community and local government officials about a recent survey that used targeted messages to dig into visitors’ perceptions of Williamsburg.
The Alabama-based marketing agency surveyed about 200 vacationers from five areas: District of Columbia, Baltimore, Raleigh-Durham, Philadelphia and New York.
Luckie wrote up a few paragraphs about Williamsburg, but did not reveal the information was describing the area. The vacationers were asked to pick areas they thought the information was describing. After answering, they were told the paragraphs described Williamsburg and were asked whether the descriptions matched up with their perceptions of the area.
More than 66 percent of respondents said the paragraph describing a history-focused destination was about Williamsburg. About 37 percent said paragraphs describing a relaxing area and an active area were about Williamsburg. Roughly 30 percent of those asked said a paragraph describing an area that sparks and feeds curiosity was about Williamsburg.
Information from the almost 1,000 respondents was compiled to inform future advertisements and marketing efforts for the area.
Luckie will be filming new footage to be used for next year’s advertisement efforts from the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee, which is tasked with spending the money collected from the $2 per night hotel tax to promote overnight visitation. Waters pushed for other large advertisers in the Williamsburg area — like Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg — to use the research to inform their own ads so the destination could tell a cohesive message about what Williamsburg has to offer visitors.
History is the jumping-off point for any Williamsburg marketing, Waters said, adding Washington, D.C. leads in history but Williamsburg brings history to life in a way no other area can.
Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle drew Waters’ attention to the area’s focus on arts with Arts Month, which was renamed Williamsburg Fall Arts in the hours following Waters’ presentation.
“We are all-in on history in a way most destinations are not,” Waters said. “We can’t just dabble in the arts and expect it to be profitable for us. … If we’re going to do it, we’ve got to do it.”
When presented a list of 20 words — including history and arts — that could be used to describe the area, most survey-takers chose fun, interesting, freedom and relaxation.
As far as the survey-takers associating the words with Williamsburg, interesting came first, followed by fun, freedom and then relaxation.
“You don’t have to work that hard to have a good vacation in Williamsburg,” Waters said.
Affordability was associated with Williamsburg about 35 percent of the time, but it ranked at roughly 75 percent for vacation-planning importance.
“I don’t think affordability is as much about price because this is a fairly affluent sample,” Waters said. “I’m translating it. I don’t think they find the value there.”
Waters said additional research about affordability and value may be necessary.
Food was ranked at around 55 percent for importance in vacation planning, and Williamsburg’s association with food was ranked around 35 percent. Waters said WADMC cannot necessarily boost the area’s food offerings but can help market them as an attraction once businesses advance their offerings.
The people who responded to the survey were 73 percent female, and 78 percent were 30 years or older. About 30 percent were above the age of 60. More than 75 percent of the respondents were white, more than 10 percent were black and the other respondents were American Indian, Asian, multiple races or another race.
More than half of those surveyed hold a bachelor’s or higher degree, and about 85 percent had a total household income of more than $50,000. About 30 percent have a total household income of $100,000 or higher. The respondents were split equally between families and couples with no children or no children at home.
About one in five respondents to the survey had visited Williamsburg for a least one night in the past three years, and about 44 percent intend to return within the next three years. Residents of each of the five areas were familiar with ads about Williamsburg, but residents in Raleigh and Philadelphia were more positive about the area.
Families with children living at home generally had a better perception of Williamsburg and the area’s attractions than couples with no children.
Full results of the survey are available on WADMC’s website along with the presentation Waters presented Tuesday.