Sen. Thomas Norment Jr.’s (R-James City County) proposed sales tax bill could have a positive trickle down effect for local citizens, according to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.
“I believe this is a game changer and not just a game changer for tourism but for our regional economy,” said Karen Riordan, president of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.
If signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, the proposed bill will raise the sales tax in the City of Williamsburg, and James City and York counties by one percentage point.
Half of the revenue from the increase would be directed toward marketing the Historic Triangle through the The Tourism Council of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, while the other half of the revenue would be given directly back to the localities the tax was collected from.
The Tourism Council of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance would be comprised of: one member of the James City County Board of Supervisors; one member of the York County Board of Supervisors; one member of the Williamsburg City Council; one representative of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; one representative of the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation; one representative of Busch Gardens Williamsburg; one representative of Historic Jamestowne; one representative of the Williamsburg Hotel Motel Association; and one representative of the Williamsburg Restaurant Association.
The council would be overseen by “a professional with extensive experience in marketing or advertising and in the tourism industry,” according to the proposed bill.
If the bill is signed, it would eliminate the $2 transient occupancy tax, which is collected for nightly stays in hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in Greater Williamsburg.
The bill would also be contingent on the city of Williamsburg repealing its decision to raise its local transient occupancy, food and beverage and admission taxes.
Riordan said the sales tax bill could serve as a funding mechanism for the area and produce funds to build a sports facility and a performing arts center.
Increasing the sales tax by one percent in the three localities would generate $24.5 million of additional revenue in fiscal year 2019, according to a statement given to the House and Senate.
Riordan said her organization’s mission is to make Williamsburg a year round destination and in order to do that it needs more money set aside for marketing, which the sales tax bill will generate.
Currently, the chamber spends $5 million for marketing but if the bill is signed, Riordan projects $9-$12 million in funds for marketing.
In comparison, Virginia Beach sets aside $25 million to market its city, according to Riordan.
Tourism in other areas
Asheville, North Carolina boasts historic architecture and art museums and is a city the tourism alliance has likened to Williamsburg.
Tourism dollars have buoyed the economy of Buncombe County, which houses Asheville.
Tourism generated $202.5 million in state and local taxes, helping offset the average Buncombe County household tax burden by $1,800 per household, according to the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In Buncombe County, one out of every seven jobs are supported by the tourism industry. Without tourism, the unemployment rate would be 15.2 percent, according to the bureau.
Julie Ellis, the communications manager at the Myrtle Beach area Chamber of Commerce in South Carolina, said her office sees a $100-$190 return on investment for every dollar spent on marketing.
“We are a large machine,” Ellis said.
Ellis said it’s hard to estimate how much money her department spends on marketing but said the area saw 18.6 million visitors last year.
Myrtle Beach is part of Horry County and Georgetown County. The combined counties generated over $10.7 million in admissions taxes in 2016, almost half of the state’s total admissions tax collections, according to the South Carolina Department of Revenue.
Tourism generated $2.2 billion of income for employees and business owners, according to Tourismworksforus.com, a website which tracks tourism in the Myrtle Beach area.
Myrtle Beach has twice the population of Williamsburg, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, local proponents of the proposed bill said it takes money to make money.
“The sad reality is, this takes money,” said Riordan, who has been in charge of the chamber for the last four years.
Northam has until midnight on April 9 to make a decision.