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.
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.