Colonial Williamsburg Foundation president Mitchell Reiss said the changes it has made to enhance and streamline programming while downsizing its staffing have put it in a healthier financial situation.
Reiss, speaking to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation board of directors at their semi-annual meeting, said Colonial Williamsburg’s financial performance is running ahead of projections, ticket sales are up in the first quarter of 2018 and it has set records in annual giving.
He is cautiously optimistic that hospitality operations would break even in 2018 for the first time in CW history.
In June 2017 Reiss announced layoffs and outsourcing jobs through a restructuring plan with the purpose of limiting expenses and raising revenue. It also closed the Kimball Theatre but later leased it to the College of William and Mary. CW had also cut about 60 positions in January 2016.
Colonial Williamsburg spent $100 million on marketing between 2005-2014, but still sold 75,000 fewer tickets to the historical area, noting that Colonial Williamsburg is unlikely anytime soon to reach the 1.2 million visitors that paid to come there in the past.
Reiss said CW could have been paralyzed by nostalgia, but it would have led to further decline and eventual financial insolvency. He said CW has pared down to 20 or 30 core programs, and it continues to make the visitor experience more interactive.
Reiss outlined trends in visitation and museums, noting the changing landscape in which historical sites operate.
He said most people coming to Colonial Williamsburg and other historical sites want relevant, entertaining and fun experiences, and they want it in a shorter amount of time.
“If we can’t attract them, we have no chance of educating and inspiring them,” Reiss said.
He said the last three years at Colonial Williamsburg have not been easy, but he said now it is seeing the fruits of its efforts.
Reiss also called on the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation board, several of whom are members of the General Assembly, to cast its influence to revitalize Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. He said tourists, even with an in-progress project to expand Interstate 64, find it difficult to get to Williamsburg, and that the region is underserved by airlines.
“We don’t want to be a bucket list destination,” Reiss said. “We want people to come back year after year.”
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