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Alliance Builds on 2015 Success, Emphasizes ‘Fun’ in 2016 Tourism Marketing

Leigh Houghland, chair of the GWCTA Board of Directors and Karen Riordan, president and CEO of GWCTA, take a selfie with attendees of the 2016 Tourism Forum March 11, 2016. (Kirsten Petersen/WYDaily)
Leigh Houghland, chairman of the GWCTA Board of Directors and Karen Riordan, president and CEO of GWCTA, take a selfie with attendees of the 2016 Tourism Forum on March 11, 2016. Taking selfies at greater Williamsburg attractions is one of the ways GWCTA is encouraging visitors to enjoy the “freedom to have fun.” (Kirsten Petersen/WYDaily)

The Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance is encouraging potential visitors to exercise their “freedom to have fun” in 2016 through enhanced event offerings and targeted advertising.

Karen Riordan, president and CEO of the Alliance, reflected on the success of the 2015 tourism season and previewed plans for this year during the 2016 Tourism Forum, which was held Friday at the Yorktown Victory Center.

Riordan said 2015 saw increased room demand and increased daily rates at hotels, which contributed to growth the Alliance had not seen in seven years.

The “Find Your Freedom” marketing campaign, which launched last year and promotes the Greater Williamsburg area as a place to experience the freedoms to have fun, satisfy curiosity and relax, remains the theme of the Alliance’s destination marketing.

“These three freedoms are really trying to take root,” Riordan said. “They’re really resonating with our potential visitors so we’re really pleased about that.”

Riordan recapped highlights from 2015, which included the debut of Williamsburg Spring Arts, the Summer of Freedom Concert Weekend and the Williamsburg Harvest Celebration.

She said the Alliance is particularly proud of the partnership with the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County that helped make the Harvest Celebration a success. Of the 25 events during the Harvest Celebration, 12 sold out, she said.

“It really exceeded our expectations,” Riordan said. “It was high quality, really well done and guest satisfaction was really strong.”

The Harvest Celebration will be extended from five days last year to eight days this year and there are plans to feature the local farmers markets during the opening weekend, Riordan said.

The extension is part of the Alliance’s emphasis on experiences and “enjoying the finer things in life,” especially cuisine, sports and recreation, Riordan said.

While new recreational offerings are not planned for 2016, Riordan said the Alliance intends to be more deliberate about promoting them so they are no longer a “pleasant surprise” for visitors.

“Research has shown when people get here they’re surprised by how beautiful it is and how much recreation there is and we’re just dialing that up a bit more to the potential visitor,” Riordan said.

She added the Alliance is continuing to promote current sports events  in the Historic Triangle and is working leads for new tournaments.

Several sectors of the tourism economy are launching new initiatives and celebrating milestones this year. The following groups were highlighted in a video shown during the forum:

  • The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial with volunteer events and interpretive programming. The Jamestown Glasshouse will mark the occasion by creating glass blown Park Ranger hats. Additionally, NPS will commemorate the 235th anniversary of the Surrender at Yorktown in October.
  • Colonial Williamsburg will debut new attractions and continue efforts that began last year. New attractions include the musket range, which opens March 19; the return of candle-making and the relocation of several trade shops. Continuing efforts include marketing Colonial Williamsburg’s mascot, Liberty the Briard, the “Escape the Room” group game and the ice rink Liberty’s Ice Pavillion.
  • Busch Gardens will expand its fall Bier Fest and add new flavors to its Food & Wine Festival. A Three Musketeers-themed stage show, “All for One,” will debut this summer and feature stunts and theatrical combat.
  • The Yorktown Victory Center will officially become the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in time for the 235th anniversary of the Surrender at Yorktown in October. Galleries and films will debut in October and the grand opening of the museum will occur in spring 2017.
  • The Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee is building on its success last year by promoting a “Summer of Freedom 2.0.” Geographic target markets include Raleigh, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. The committee will use various media, including cable TV, streaming video and magazines to target audiences based on their behavior and demographics. A “giggle reel” debuted during the first week of March and will air through the end of August. The committee is also experimenting with mini-videos that feature a “spokeskid” and target audiences who stream specific programs.

Phil Emerson, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, which operates the Yorktown Victory Center, said the area has a great tourism season in the works and he is looking forward to the grand opening of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in 2017.

“Our commitment from day one is this new museum will not only enhance the tourism appeal of greater Williamsburg but also strengthen the national appeal of Virginia as a destination to learn about the American Revolution,” Emerson said.

Bob Harris, the Alliance’s senior vice president, said he was looking forward to seeing the Alliance’s initiatives “fall into place” and was pleased to see how well the product and the marketing has meshed.

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