For three years, Colonial Williamsburg has enjoyed increased visitation and fund-raising, getting an extra boost last year with a visit by British Queen Elizabeth II during the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. Ticket sales last year reached 780,000, a 5 percent increase over 2006, and a record 119,000 donors contributed $41 million.
That momentum, however, is now in jeopardy. Colonial Williamsburg, like other tourism destinations, is challenged by the effects of higher gas prices and a slowing economy, says Bob Taylor, senior vice president of finance and administration for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The volume of tourists at Colonial Williamsburg early this summer was flat compared with last year, while visitation was down 3 percent in June at nearby Historic Jamestowne (the site of the original English colony) and Jamestown Settlement (a state-run living history museum).
“We’re now adjusting our advertising at the margin to a closer audience, recognizing the fact that people from, let’s say, New England might be less willing to drive down to Virginia,” says Taylor.
Colonial Williamsburg also is offering super-saver packages and discounts that have helped to increase the number of reservations taken this summer. Pulling in the locals is a little easier, Taylor admits, thanks to the fact that Colonial Williamsburg has made a number of improvements in recent years. These include the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg, which opened last year; the newly restored Williamsburg Lodge and Conference Center; and the rejuvenated Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. It was rededicated earlier this year after consolidation with the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.
The historic area also features more interactive programming, including street theater presentations featuring a large number of in-character actors/interpreters. Part of the area serves as the backdrop for “Revolutionary City,” a two-hour dramatic presentation that details events occurring in Williamsburg from 1774 to 1781.
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