How to Market the Triangle to Tourists? Maybe a New Group

December 30th, 2011 by Desiree Parker

Local government representatives and tourism heavy hitters are starting to examine whether the area has a real destination marketing organization, and if not, whether it would be a good idea to create one.

There are several organizations – all of which are very intertwined – beginning to look at the issue.

At a recent retreat for the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee (WADMC), an organization created to promote overnight visitation to the Triangle by using an extra $2 tax per room/per night on hotel stays, the group had a long discussion on whether the area has a true destination marketing organization (known by the shorthand DMO) and whether to create one. The group agreed to have some representatives research the issue and bring it back for discussion. Not long afterward, the Historic Triangle Collaborative (HTC), a group made up of many of the same members (see breakout), also discussed the issue and asked their chair to look into it and report back.

According to the Destination Marketing Association International a DMO, often called a convention and visitor bureau (CVB), is a nonprofit organization made up of tourism-related businesses that represents a destination, encourages visitation and has a long-term travel and tourism strategy.

Based on that definition, the area already has a DMO, or CVB.

In 2005, the Williamsburg Area Chamber of Commerce merged with the Williamsburg Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to create an entity that would later be renamed the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance. The merger was aimed at making better use of public and private resources and boosting flagging tourism in the area, representatives said at the time.

The Alliance received just over $2 million, or about two-thirds of its revenues, in government contributions in 2010, based on the Alliance’s most recent tax form; this comes mainly from tourism-related taxes. According to the state legislation that created the group, WADMC is a part of the Alliance, and the Alliance is the fiscal agent for the group.

According to HTC minutes, WADMC Vice Chair Clyde Haulman, Williamsburg’s mayor and an HTC member, reported WADMC’s retreat included a lengthy discussion about whether WADMC should be considered the area DMO, or whether the HTC is the area’s DMO.

Haulman told WYDaily the initial discussion at the HTC focused on some basic questions: “Does the area have a DMO, should it have one, and do we have one in the Alliance?” The Alliance “does lots of stuff that a DMO does, but it also doesn’t do other things,” he said.

County Administrator for James City County Robert Middaugh attended the WADMC meeting (in place of Stonehouse Supervisor and WADMC Chair Jim Kennedy, who couldn’t attend) but did not attend the HTC meeting.

Behind the acronyms

WADMC has a representative from the WHMA, officials from each local government, Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation and the Alliance. Its meetings are public.

WADMC’s mission is “to manage and execute a cooperative Historic Triangle marketing fund and campaign to benefit the area’s tourism industry.”

The HTC, which sprung from collaboration during the Jamestown 2007 celebration, includes officials from each local government, chief administrative officers from each locality, and representatives from Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation, the College of William and Mary, the Alliance and Busch Gardens. Its meetings are not public.

The HTC’s mission is “to think regionally and work collaboratively to achieve sustainable economic and quality of life benefits for the Historic Triangle.”

Middaugh agreed that “the Alliance is trying to work area-wide, but it is not all-inclusive” and works instead for its membership. “It’s also trying to be a chamber. These, in my mind, are very different functions,” Middaugh said.

Alliance President Dick Schreiber, who also serves on both WADMC and the HTC, was not at the WADMC retreat, and was not available for comment Thursday.

WADMC likely isn’t the best candidate as a DMO either, because “it has a very narrow and defined mission; it’s only for marketing,” Middaugh said.

WADMC member and Williamsburg Hotel Motel Association President Billy Scruggs agreed. “People expect that WADMC is the DMO, but the problem is that our mandate is limited.” Currently, WADMC uses its revenue mainly to buy radio, television and print ads to market the Triangle.

WADMC could send its money to a DMO, though, Middaugh noted. A DMO could replace WADMC’s working arm, the Marketing Resource Task Force.

Middaugh said the WADMC discussion included a critique of the things that were and weren’t working for tourism in the area. “There are too many [tourism-related] organizations trying to do different things here,” he said. “Therefore, our message isn’t necessarily cohesive.”

He said three entities have expressed interest in possibly beginning a new DMO: the HTC, WADMC and the three Triangle jurisdictions. In his opinion, likely the jurisdictions would be a good choice because “we are the funding sources.”

According to the HTC minutes, the HTC was concerned that it would be stepping out of its objectives if it joined or became a DMO. Members also didn’t like the idea of WADMC as the area DMO because it doesn’t have representation from key groups such as the College of William and Mary (the HTC doesn’t have a representative from the Williamsburg Hotel Motel Association, so it leaves out a WADMC group member).

Both the HTC and WADMC are gathering more data on the DMO issue and both plan to have discussions on it soon. WADMC asked the administrators for the three localities to look into the issue and report back, while the HTC asked Chair Sandy Wanner to do the same.

Wanner told WYDaily he is working on researching areas that have DMOs, and what makes them successful. The Alliance is also doing research on the topic and will look at comparable markets to Williamsburg that have destination drivers (that is, a place that draws tourists) that also use DMOs, Wanner said.

10 Responses to How to Market the Triangle to Tourists? Maybe a New Group

  1. Another group?

    December 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    WADMC, DMO, HTC . . . OMG

  2. Marilla Cuthbert

    December 30, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Yeah, I couldn’t bring me to read the whole story, even. When you don’t know what to do, appoint a committee or do a study.

    Kick the can down the road, preferably while spending taxpayer money to do so.

  3. Ron

    December 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    The answer lies in the facts of this artivle. In 2005 the Chamber of Commerce and the CVB merged into one organization, and that was a well intentioned mistake.

    Accept the mistake break up the Alliance and return to a traditional format that works in every other destination in America. A Chamber of Commerce that is a seperate organization from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    It is really that simple.

  4. Hummm????

    December 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Has anyone involved the local Travel Agent community? They specialize in marketing other destinations so surely they would be able to analyze how best to market their home city to travelers coming into the area…. Use the resources we have rather than create more bureaucracy and redundancy in the system.

  5. Hopley Yeaton

    December 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Why not re-distribute some of the money to the individual businesses and let them do their own marketing? Oh, I forgot – only the government can save us.

  6. I no better

    December 31, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    “Alliance President Dick Schreiber, who also serves on both WADMC and the HTC, was not at the WADMC retreat, and was not available for comment Thursday.” Schreiber not being at or being unavailable encapsulates the problems of the Alliance. Neither he nor the Alliance can fulfill the needs of the tourism industry. Does anyone have any confidence in either the Alliance or him? It’s time for the tax payers’ $$$$ to be invested in ways that drive results. BTW, I don’t hold the staff members responsible as they are functioning under the thumb of the CEO – Schreiber.

  7. debbie

    December 31, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    If something doesn’t work don’t you throw it out? It is time to get rid of them all and start fresh. We have nothing to lose, they are all non functioning when it comes to tourism. That is so evident by the hotel occupany rate…Someone needs to start the demolision of this “old boy network”.

  8. Madigan Pratt

    January 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Having prepared the marketing sections for numerous tourism development plans, including the one that relaunched Philadelphia, there are several things each destination has in common. They all have dedicated people who want the destination to succeed. They are also mired in so much internal politics (and to a certain degree cronyism) that solutions are always skewed to preserve power.

    It does take a professional organization with no particular axe to grind to develop a fresh approach and the best and most business oriented solution.

    With so many different, and oftentimes conflicting tourism organizations, an internal investigation will most likely produce some interesting results, but not the solution residents and businesses need and deserve to prosper.

  9. Bob Tubbs

    January 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    For those who are interested in a positive and participatory structured forum to discuss ideas, approaches and solutions, please join our Facebook group, Innovate Williamsburg at http://www.facebook.com/groups/innovatewilliamsburg/. We will hold a first meeting of the group sometime in mid- to late January.
    There is also a group set up that contains a 30+ page planning document with ideas and approaches to address tourism, economic diversity and community. It is located at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Williamsburg-Community-Plan-Diversity-Tourism-Community/141091892570478.
    Anyone is welcomed to join. The only rule is it must be positive and productive. Let us know what you think.

  10. Why oh Why?

    January 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Once upon a time there was a CVB/DMO for our area but it was absorbed into the Chamber of Commerce to save it’s fiscal fanny. Then a former CW Vice President was hired to run the newly formed organization and run it he has … straight into the ground! Was that part of the master plan? And what about Randall Fosky’s culpability? He was one of the driving forces behind the reorganiztion and benefits by solely producing all of the Tourism Alliance’s printed publications. Has the Alliance become a refuge for CW executives? Is this its problem along with underqualified staff because that’s all they can afford now? I haven’t anything impressive from this organiztion in years except for the impressive salaries drawn by Dick Schreiber and Bob Harris.

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