Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Is Greater Williamsburg an affordable place to vacation? Here’s what marketing research shows

New touch-screen displays will allow guests to explore history at the own pace. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.)
New touch-screen displays will allow guests to explore history at the own pace. (WYDaily/Courtesy Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.)

In many ways, Greater Williamsburg is a diverse tourist destination. There’s Busch Gardens Williamsburg for theme park enthusiasts, riverfront swimming areas and parks for those who want a quieter trip, Colonial Williamsburg and countless other historic sites and monuments.

But is it affordable to visit here?

A recent data set featured in a marketing presentation for the Williamsburg Tourism Council shows vacationing families prioritize affordability on their trips.

While it’s not clear what methodology was used to compile the data, it also shows affordability as one of the least-used descriptors of the Williamsburg area attractions.

Instead, some local tourism marketing groups are focusing on value versus basic affordability.

“Value is a perceived element for a visitor,” said Susan Bak, senior director of marketing & retail operations for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, which operates Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. “If a visitor is … given a message as a marker, whether it’s website content or an advertising message, you create demand with that.”

“So, when they come, you need to be able to deliver on it. That’s where the essence of value comes in,” Bak added.

Tourism studies

Dave Potter, Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance director of marketing communication, said the Chamber began marketing research in 2014 to identify “benchmarks” for Greater Williamsburg as a tourist destination.

The research aimed to find what was important to vacationers in their planning and what was descriptive of the area, and how those two relate.

“For factors like fun, relaxation, curiosity, Williamsburg could move the needle to rank higher on that,” Potter said. “Fun is really the big one. History can be a tough sell, but how it’s served up, it doesn’t have to be.”

While “fun” was one of the middle-ranked descriptors for Williamsburg, affordability ranked low.

“I can’t speak to affordability,” Bak said. “In some folks’ definition, it may be the same (as value).”

Several years ago, Potter said the Chamber looked into how the area ranked versus other attractions within its “competitive set,” meaning other destinations that would attract the same type of customer.

Potter added the Chamber aims to “key down” on what “affordability” really means.

Jamestown Settlement's Godspeed under sail. (WYDaily/Courtesy Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation)
Jamestown Settlement’s Godspeed under sail. (WYDaily/Courtesy Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation)

Methods to attract people

There are numerous ways area attractions and the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance are working to attract people to the area.

“History families will always be the core market we go after,” Potter said. “But if there’s a family that likes more outdoor activities … we can serve that up to them, too.”

The Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance has started “personalizing” its marketing on the website, meaning those who visit the site see content tailored to their geographical location.

Residents, for example, may see more local events, but those farther away may see broader advertisements for area attractions, Potter said.

The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation uses clear marketing communications — part of that message is pricing — and after-visit customer surveys to gauge visitor experience, Bak said.

Surveys are offered seasonally to customers and ask about difficulties during their visit, where the foundation fell short of their expectations and more.

On the surveys, customers have not indicated there are issues with the cost of admission, Bak said.

“It’s really important to note that there are different kinds of research,” she added.

Increasing stay

The October marketing presentation said the 2019-2020 “vision” includes increasing overnight visitation “by positioning greater Williamsburg as the most preferred leisure and business destination in the mid-Atlantic region.”

Over recent decades, hotel and motel visitation and the length of hotel-motel stays have been decreasing in Greater Williamsburg.

RELATED STORY: As tourism industry evolves, some of Greater Williamsburg’s older hotels and motels find new lives

The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation is working to increase customer stay length by offering package tickets encouraging visits on multiple days. The foundation also offers cooperative tickets that include admission to other, separate historic sites like Colonial Williamsburg and area national parks.

“We work very hard to support destination success,” Bak said.

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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