Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Who will take care of tourism tax dollars here? Tourism Council wants the ‘best of the best’

Local leaders discussed the use of funds generated by Senate Bill 942. (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)
Local leaders discussed the use of funds generated by Senate Bill 942 in May 2018. (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)

Amid a host of changes at the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, officials are now working to fill a key leadership position.

The Tourism Alliance is looking to hire an executive director for the Williamsburg Tourism Council, a position that will help determine the fate of tax revenue generated by Senate Bill 942.

“Our goal is to find the best of the best,” said Jess Wassmer, Tourism Council chairman and York County supervisor.

Senate Bill 942 went into effect July 1, and sets aside tax revenue generated by the $2 room tax from hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts and a 1 percent increase in state sales tax. Half of the funding from the taxes will go toward marketing the Historic Triangle as a tourist destination.

Tax dollars could be used to create a new tourist attraction or enhance the appeal of the area to tourists.

Changes

The Tourism Council executive director position was created during a restructuring within the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, Wassmer said.

The restructuring was prompted by the passage of SB 942, and caused former chamber president Karen Riordan’s position to be “diluted” into two new positions: the Williamsburg Business Council executive director and the Tourism Council executive director.

Riordan left the chamber in August for a top position at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Terry Banez has been appointed interim executive director of the Williamsburg Business Council.

Before the restructuring, Bob Harris served as vice president of tourism under Riordan. After SB 942 went into effect, Harris was appointed as interim executive director of the Tourism Council.

Harris also left for a position with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at the end of October, Wassmer said. He is now the executive vice president of sales in Myrtle Beach.

The hunt

In October, the Tourism Council voted to hire a search firm, Search Wide, to begin the national search for Harris’s replacement.

Wassmer said Harris was also encouraged to apply for the position.

There is also a search committee in place that will assist in filling the position. Members of the committee include Williamsburg Vice Mayor Doug Pons, Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell Reiss, Colonial National Historical Park Superintendent Kym Hall and Busch Gardens Williamsburg President Kevin Lembke.

The committee also includes Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance staff, including Director of Marketing Communications Dave Potter, part-time temporary administrator Jody Puckett and Business Council Interim Executive Director Terry Banez.

Potter, Puckett and Banez are also working to fill the responsibilities of the Tourism Council executive director position while a replacement is found.

While Search Wide has already visited the area and spoken with the search committee, Wassmer said the Tourism Council executive director position is unlikely to be filled before 2019.

Wassmer said the goal of the Tourism Council is to increase tourism and create a community awareness of how the money from SB 942 is being spent — and that means having a “great” leader in place.

“Our feeling is that citizens, through their tax dollars, are investing in tourism,” Wassmer said. “They expect a return.”

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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