Colonial Williamsburg begins gradually reopening
After a rough spring, Colonial Williamsburg reopened June 14 on a limited basis, although visitors may notice modern reality intruding in the form of face masks and Plexiglas barriers.
With nearly 2,000 workers, Colonial Williamsburg is one of the Peninsula region’s largest employers, but it was especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout. More than 700 employees were furloughed or placed on administrative leave, and all of the Historic Area’s hotels and restaurants were closed for at least two months.
As a result, Williamsburg hotel revenues fell 87% in June as compared with last year, according to data from Old Dominion University’s Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. Much of the city’s tourism dollars depend on Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, which has not announced when it plans to reopen.
In mid-June, while the state entered Phase Two of Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan, Colonial Williamsburg began by reopening 13 of its nearly 50 historic sites and offering programs outdoors.
“We are eager to welcome employees and guests back to Colonial Williamsburg, but reopening our public sites requires that we work together so that we all remain safe,” says Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President and CEO Cliff Fleet. The former president and CEO of Philip Morris USA, he took the helm of Colonial Williamsburg on Jan. 1.
The Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses, a bed-and-breakfast-style establishment, are now open, as are some restaurants, including Chowning’s Tavern. The Governor’s Inn closed in 2019, and a developer has submitted plans for an apartment complex there.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which runs the historic site, already was contending with a decline in visitors, from 1.2 million in 1988 to 550,000 in 2018. The foundation owns about $1 billion in assets, including the 301-acre campus, two art museums, 14 retail outlets and a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones.
Although Norfolk and Virginia Beach’s hotel occupancy rates, as well as other top markets, improved somewhat in June, it’s going to take time for the hospitality industry to recover, says ODU economist Vinod Agarwal, deputy director of the Dragas Center.
“We should brace ourselves for a continued slow rebound as the nation and the commonwealth largely reopens from COVID-19. It will take time for business and leisure travelers to fill rooms again.”