Tourism Council settles on budget, marching orders for marketing campaign

Tourism Council settles on budget, marching orders for marketing campaign

The Tourism Council agreed to set its inaugural marketing campaign’s budget at $8.5 million, a conservative figure that’s still a marked increase compared to its predecessor’s efforts.

It’s still less than the Tourism Council expects to rake in through tax collections. The Tourism Council had previously projected its share of revenue generated through Senate Bill 942 at $10.4 million, though Tourism Council Interim Executive Director Bob Harris said Tuesday that revenue could be as high as $12 million in 2019.

SB 942 increased the sales tax in Williamsburg, James City and York counties by 1 percent and redirected the $2 transient occupancy tax to the Tourism Council, which the legislation also created to market the region to overnight tourists.

A low-ball budget means the 2019 marketing campaign is less likely to need revisions should revenue come in below projections. It’s also easier to scale up a marketing campaign if revenue exceeds expectations than it is to scale back spending if a budget is too ambitious, said Corrina Ferguson, the chamber’s destination campaign marketing director.

The Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee, the previous organization charged with marketing the Historic Triangle to overnight tourists, collected about $3 million through the $2 transient occupancy tax annually. That, combined with the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s own marketing efforts, meant the region had about $5.2 million to use for marketing last year.

But what would an $8.5 million marketing campaign look like?

It essentially would be similar to WADMC’s existing marketing campaign, just bigger and better. The new campaign would build on existing programs and assets and create new ones, as well as introduce a year-round campaign. WADMC’s campaign focused on the summer months.

The Tourism Council saw a preview of the marketing campaign its consulting agencies expect to draw up for consideration in December.

The overall goal is to increase overnight visitation by casting the Greater Williamsburg area as the best leisure and business destination in the mid-Atlantic, Harris said.

The Tourism Council will contract with agencies already known to the chamber, such as Luckie, a branding and strategic thinking firm, and Percepture, a public relations and social media firm, to make that happen.

“We have to tell your story the right way to the right people,” said Brad White, chief creative officer at Luckie. “We bring history to life in ways other destinations can’t.”

For the past several years, the annual marketing campaign has been focused on families and summertime fun. With more money, the area can be marketed to other consumers in addition to families and as a year-round destination, White said.

The campaign could be extended beyond familiar markets — WADMC focused on Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Raleigh — to across the country. History lovers are willing to travel farther than other tourists, White said.

The Tourism Council voted unanimously to green light the general idea of the marketing plan, which is expected to be considered for formal adoption in December.

The Tourism Council also voted to spend $25,000 to hire SearchWide Global as a search firm to find an executive director to lead the marketing office that will spend the money generated by the SB 942 tax revenue. A timeline on when a candidate would be hired wasn’t provided.

But with its interim executive director on his way out, the Tourism Council will likely want to find someone soon. Harris’s last day at the chamber is Oct. 31. He’s leaving to take a job as the vice president of sales at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. He follows former chamber president and CEO Karen Riordan, who took a similar post there in August.

The Tourism Council likely won’t appoint another interim director, instead relying on chamber and locality staff to find its way forward in the meantime, Tourism Council chairman and York supervisor Jeff Wassmer said.

The Tourism Council does plan to appoint a chief marketing staffer, who will fulfill a role similar to Ferguson’s role. Ferguson is leaving the chamber Thursday.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.