In fall 2019, hundreds of Jane Austen fans will descend on Williamsburg — bringing their tourism money with them.
“We are very lucky in Greater Williamsburg regarding product and venues but at the same time tourism…as we know it brings more jobs, new infrastructure and a higher quality of life for locals,” said Dominique Holt, associate director of conference sales for Visit Williamsburg.
While Williamsburg is home to a number of conventions each year, the annual general meeting for the Jane Austen Society of North America will bring something different to the table. As 800 “Janites” come to Williamsburg for the first time, the city prepares to embrace them in the arms of colonial history.
Jane Austen, one of the most widely read authors in the English language, was born right at the start of the revolutionary war in 1775 and lived in its aftermath. The time period of the author’s life brushes up against that of Colonial Williamsburg, making this year’s annual general meeting something special for its guests.
“It’ll be great because you won’t have to go far to find a connection to Austen’s world, you can just step right outside your hotel,” said Amy Stallings, coordinator for 2019’s annual general meeting.
This is the first time Williamsburg has hosted the annual general meeting. Stallings said many members approached her to express their excitement about the location.
At past meetings, Stallings said members of the society convene in large cities like Toronto or Chicago. But for 2019, JASNA members get to settle in Colonial Williamsburg to immerse themselves in everything Austen as well as colonial history.
“We’re connecting history with history,” she said. “It’s people who will have background knowledge and a general interest in this time period and that’s something special for Williamsburg.”
Keeping down the colonial cost
One of the ways this benefits members is it helps to keep costs down for convention activities. Stallings said typically the convention can become pretty expensive for members because they have to pay not only for the hotel, but for any additional extra events they want to participate outside of the convention.
By staying in Williamsburg, members can experience colonial history without having to break the bank and Stallings hopes this will encourage them to come back for future visits.
While Williamsburg is a smaller location than the annual meeting is used to, Stallings said it has helped her to prepare accommodations because it is such a tourist town.
One way she is doing this is by offering two convention hotels, The Williamsburg Lodge and the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel, which have close proximity not only to downtown Williamsburg but to each other. This is different from hotel preparation in past locations where members only have one lodging location to choose from.
The influx of Janites will also coincide with 2019’s Occasion for the Arts, an annual festival in Williamsburg that draws in hundreds of artists and guests. To help combat travel or transportation issues, Stallings has been able to build a partnership with the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority to help keep conference traffic to a minimum.
But most of all, Stallings believes this will be a once in a lifetime experience for both JASNA members and Colonial Williamsburg enthusiasts.
“People are going to want to make this a longer vacation and they’ll want to come back again,” Stallings said. “This opportunity will put Williamsburg on the map for a national Jane Austen audience.”