Thursday, August 11, 2022

Area leaders meet to discuss tourism funding before Senate Bill 942 takes effect

Local leaders discussed Tuesday the use of funds generated by Senate Bill 942. (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)
Local leaders discussed Tuesday the use of funds generated by Senate Bill 942. (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)

Local officials are deciding how to spend millions of dollars of tax revenue generated by Senate Bill 942.

A group of elected officials from the City of Williamsburg and York and James City counties — as well as executives from the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance — met Tuesday morning at the James City County government offices to iron out details of how the revenue generated by Senate Bill 942 will be used to promote regional tourism.

Greater Williamsburg’s three localities will receive millions of dollars in new tax revenue through the bill, which goes into effect July 1.

During their respective budget seasons, local leaders projected the bill would generate more than $10 million annually — including nearly $1 million in Williamsburg, over $4 million in York County and over $5.5 million in James City County.

The revenue, generated by a one-percent increase in the state sales tax, would be earmarked for tourism marketing funding.

“If taxpayers are making their investment in this, then we need to show them a result,” York County Supervisor Jeff Wassmer said in the meeting.

Known as the Ad Hoc Tourism Task Force, the group of officials discussed draft documents pertaining to the Tourism Council of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance. The tourism council will be created per the bill and will administer the tourism funds through the Historic Triangle Office of Marketing and Promotion.

The task force also met at the end of April to lay the groundwork for the body’s goals and vision.

On Tuesday, Williamsburg was represented by Vice-Mayor Scott Foster and Councilor Doug Pons. James City County Supervisor Michael Hipple and Chair Ruth Larson were present, as well as York County Supervisor Jeff Wassmer and Chair Sheila Noll.

The Continuance of Operations Committee, a subcommittee of the Ad Hoc Tourism Task Force composed of county administrators and the interim city manager, brought documents to the meeting for officials to review and discuss.

The document included potential bylaws for the tourism council, a job description for the executive director of the Historic Triangle Office of Marketing and Promotion, and a transition plan for the area’s tourism marketing until the time the council is created.

The tourism council will be composed of one representative from each of the local governments, as well as from tourism stakeholders including Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Busch Gardens, Historic Jamestowne, the Williamsburg Hotel & Motel Association and the Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association.

The council will be led by an executive director, who will be a professional with substantial experience in marketing and tourism. They will manage the day-to-day operations of the Historic Triangle Office of Marketing and Promotion and its staff.

The executive director will also provide “expertise, leadership and vision in all marketing efforts for the destination,” according to meeting documents. They will be responsible for the development of a marketing campaign to draw visitors to Greater Williamsburg and increase overnight visitation.

Members of the task force agreed that metrics must be identified to track progress and hold the Office of Marketing and Promotion accountable. No metrics had been decided by Tuesday, but a study will be conducted to establish baselines of the financial impact of tourism.

“It’s important to understand that baseline, but it’s important to understand where we need to be, and that’s tough to define,” City Councilor Doug Pons said. “How do we know we’re being successful?”

In the meantime, the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee (WADMC) will continue to handle regional promotional endeavors.

The task force identifies 2019 as a transition year that will require continuity with WADMC’s strategies as the region pivots to the tourism council’s funding and plans.

“That should be our goal, that this entire operation with a baseline and fully-funded marketing plan should ready to be implemented for 2020,” Williamsburg Vice-Mayor Scott Foster said.

The task force will continue to meet until the Office of Marketing and Promotion and its executive director are established. The group will discuss the meeting documents with their respective localities before the next meeting, where they may vote on adopting the by-laws, the executive director’s job description and the transition plan.

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