All the big players in the Triangle tourism industry shared their plans for the upcoming holiday season at the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s tourism update meeting Wednesday, along with some other insider tidbits.
Dan Dipiazzo, Busch Gardens and Water Country’s vice president of marketing, told the audience that the theme parks are coming off a great summer season, with combined attendance for both parks topping last year so far. Water Country had its best year ever, he said.
Last year was the launch of Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town, and it was such a big success “we were a little overwhelmed by the response,” Dipiazzo said. There were times last year the park had to close its gates to waiting customers due to capacity issues, so this year they’ll expand the Christmas Town area to accommodate lots more people.
The holiday fun will spill over into the Italy portion of the park, with one million lights in that “country” alone, plus a million lights in the rest of the park.
There will be new dining and shopping areas added, and a new show, and the sky ride will now be open so visitors can see the twinkling lights from the best vantage point. The skyride “will be a real hidden gem,” said Dipiazzo.
Christmas Town will be open longer this year, too. It will run on select dates from November 26 through December 31, from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. Visit the Christmas Town website for details.
Colonial Williamsburg Director of Brand Strategy and Marketing Sally McConnell told the audience that the summer had been fantastic, with ticket sales and visitation up from last year.
She expects the holiday season to be just as good, with more than 40,000 people having visited CW’s Christmas website already this year. Last year about 100,000 people visited the site, she said.
There will be 115 signature holiday programs going on through the rest of the year, with a new fancy dress ball at the Governor’s Palace planned for December 11.
Colonial Williamsburg has extended its advertising in the fourth quarter to continue to attract visitors to holiday festivities, according to McConnell.
Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation (JYF) Senior Director of Marketing and Retail Operations Susan Bak told the audience the two historic sites have seen a 120 percent increase to-date in web bookings this year for various tickets and packages, and that JYF plans to continue to focus on gathering more web business.
The Foundation is also making its highest investment in fall advertising this year since the 2007 celebration in order to bring in more visitors. Television ads will be running on Cox cable channels from Virginia Beach to Richmond through the winter.
Winter programs include “Food and Feasts,” which focuses on traditional holiday food from the early days of the two settlements, as well as “A Colonial Christmas,” which will include some live music this year in addition to exhibits on the history of the holiday.
Tom Smith, assistant CEO for Binns of Williamsburg, said he’s been working hard to promote Emmy Award-winning actress Betty White’s upcoming visit to his shop. He’s been contacting local attractions and businesses to help develop some more animal-related options to entice visitors coming to see Ms. White, who will be in town to benefit her “pet” cause, animal welfare.
So far, Smith says he’s helped book about 80 rooms for various guests visiting for the occasion, and has a list of 1,500 people already registered just to stand in line on the day of her visit. Read a previous story on her visit here.
Bob Harris, the Alliance’s vice president for tourism, shared some new internet developments his organization has been working on.
The first is a new mobile website, which will launch Thursday. The website, designed for smartphones, will have quick links to dining, attractions, lodging and other information a visitor might need when in the Triangle.
The mobile site will also have coupons which the user can redeem by showing their phone screen to a merchant.
The Alliance also has a new CivilWarWilliamsburg.com website with civil war attractions visitors might be interested in, and a newly redesigned ExploreWilliamsburg.com site devoted solely to tourism (the redesign will launch in one month, Harris said). The Alliance is also working on updating its sport website, to let visitors know what sports events are going on in the area.
For Christmastime, the Alliance has planned an advertising campaign targeting the Washington, D.C. market. Harris said the media buy is for television and radio, and 90 percent of the D.C. market will see the Williamsburg message 10 times in a three- to four-week period.
The Alliance’s ChristmasWilliamsburg.com website has also been redesigned this year, Harris said.