In a change of plans, Colonial Williamsburg has announced the Governor’s Inn will not reopen for the 2019 season.
Instead, it will remain closed permanently.
“Colonial Williamsburg no longer considers the hotel a strategic asset related to its core educational mission and is evaluating its options for the property,” foundation spokesman Joe Straw said in an email Thursday.
The Colonial Williamsburg website says the brick-clad, “budget-friendly” inn offered comfortable, economy accommodations close to the Historic Area. The inn was pet-friendly and included some admission discounts and package deals for area golf courses and spas.
The inn closes annually for the winter season. It closed this season Dec. 10, and was slated to reopen March 14, Colonial Williamsburg said in December. In December, the foundation also said it would close retail operations at the Mary Dickinson Shop, Post Office and Colonial Nursery. Sales for many items in those shops were transferred to other locations in the Historic Area.
Colonial Williamsburg has several other lodging options, including the Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, Woodlands Hotel & Suites, Griffin Hotel and colonial houses.
Any reservations for the upcoming season at the Governor’s Inn will be transferred to the Woodlands Hotel & Suites at no cost, Straw said.
It’s unclear what will happen to Governor’s Inn employees.
Straw did not return a phone call Thursday requesting additional information.
Part of a decline
The hotel and motel industry in Greater Williamsburg has suffered a slow decline for several decades as the tourism industry changed and timeshares and short-term rentals like Airbnb became more popular.
Colonial Williamsburg has generally seen a decrease in attendance since the late 1980s, forcing the nonprofit to “rededicate itself to its core mission of education and preservation,” President and CEO Mitchell Reiss said in the foundation’s 2017 Annual Report.
It is unclear whether the Governor’s Inn was a profitable asset for Colonial Williamsburg.
Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association President Ron Kirkland said he heard rumors about the closure “in the last 24 hours” before the announcement came out.
“The Governor’s Inn — it’s a great location,” Kirkland said, adding that it’s close to the Historic Area, train station and visitor center. “I think it’s a bit of a sign it’s been tough with hotel demand in the area. It’s unfortunate Colonial Williamsburg isn’t going to continue to operate that, but I think they’re going through a process to look internally on what’s going to be best.”
“If they didn’t think that’s a core asset, that’s understandable,” he added.
Kirkland said visitation information for individual hotels in the area is “proprietary” and is not released to Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association.
“I don’t think there’s a wide impact negatively to the lodging industry in general, other than we’re losing another couple hundred rooms,” Kirkland said, adding the Governor’s Inn made up about 3 percent of the area’s lodging inventory.
While the area has experienced a decline in visitation, Kirkland is optimistic the tides may be turning.
In July 2018, Senate Bill 942 went into effect, generating millions of dollars to fund tourism marketing campaigns and new attractions. The revenue, generated by a one-percent increase in the state sales tax, is distributed between York County, James City County and Williamsburg and earmarked to fund tourism initiatives.
“I actually think now is the right time to look at something like (investing in lodging),” Kirkland said. “We have a dedicated source of funding to market this area… Things are lining up for visitation to substantially increase.”
There’s also room to redevelop area hotels to give them new life. Many area hotels have been renovated for new uses, including into William & Mary dormitories, a distillery and affordable apartments.
Kirkland believes the Governor’s Inn property could lend itself well to renovations and reopen as a new hotel, or for more housing.
Straw said Colonial Williamsburg “is evaluating its options for the property.”
When hotels go up for sale, the hotel and motel association is often involved, Kirkland said. During those discussions about possibly buying or selling an area hotel or motel property, the association will provide data on the area’s lodging industry.
The association will also provide context for those numbers, such as information on the new advertising dollars generated by Senate Bill 942.
“The combination of new product development and advertising money — more people are going to come to Williamsburg,” Kirkland said.