Task force tackles W&M’s role in tourism

  • Touring the college, touring the areaAlthough the College may not seem like an obvious tourist destination, visitors to the school are significant contributors to the local tourism industry. Additionally, the College has much to offer tourists who come to the area to visit other attractions.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Touring the college, touring the area
  • Touring the college, touring the areaWilliam & Mary offers numerous opportunities for visitors, including historical sites, sporting or seasonal events and arts exhibits and performances.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Touring the college, touring the area

The beginning of summer in the Historic Triangle means an increase in the number of tourists to the area, visiting local attractions like Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and … William & Mary?

Although the College may not seem like an obvious tourist destination, visitors to the school are significant contributors to the local tourism industry. Additionally, the College has much to offer tourists who come to the area to visit other attractions.

Over the last year, a task force at the College has looked more closely at William & Mary’s role in tourism, and, recently, it released a report in which it suggested six tourism goals for the College to adopt.

“We know that William & Mary attracts many visitors to the Historic Triangle, and we have a lot to offer on our beautiful, historic campus,” said Jim Golden, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. “We want to make sure visitors have an enjoyable experience, that they can easily find their way to campus venues and events and that they consider longer stays in our area to take advantage of all the Historic Triangle has to offer.”

According to a 2005 economic impact study, William & Mary students and visitors to the campus spent approximately $41,000,000 per year in the Williamsburg/James City County area, $61,000,000 in Hampton Roads and $76,000,000 in Virginia.

The William & Mary Tourism Task Force, which included staff and faculty members from departments across campus as well as representatives from the City of Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg and the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, was created after a 2010 report from the Historic Triangle Economic Diversification Task Force was released, suggesting ways the region could grow economically.

“The goal of the tourism task force was to identify the ways the College could better integrate itself with regional tourism,” said Leonard Sledge, director of economic development for the College and co-chair of the task force along with Carolyn K. Davis, director of auxiliary services. “There are a lot of amenities that William & Mary has to offer that could make a tourist’s trip to the region that much more enjoyable.”

Those amenities include historical sites, such as the Sir Christopher Wren Building, the oldest college building in the United States; sporting or seasonal events such as the annual homecoming parade and game; and exhibits and performances, including lectures, music and theatre shows and world-class art exhibits such as the recent “Michelangelo: Anatomy as Architecture” exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum, which was the only U.S. venue for the show.

Sledge added, “At the same time, we recognize that we draw many people to the region who come to William & Mary for admissions visits, for family weekend, for conferences and for sporting events who can extend their vacation by knowing about other types of activities and events that are going on in the region. And so our goal was to promote what was here at William & Mary but to also to expose people who were coming to William & Mary to more activities, events and tourism destinations.”

The task force met four times throughout the year to talk about developing tourism-related goals for the College. The group settled on the following six goals: define who William & Mary tourists and visitors are and what the College wants to happen during their visits; define the desired William & Mary on-campus tourism experience; create official William & Mary welcome centers to improve the overall tourist and visitor experience on campus, direct tourists and visitors to desired locations, and generate revenue through ticket sales of events, attractions and activities that are both on and off campus; increase tourism related revenue to William & Mary; link William & Mary to broader regional tourism marketing; and develop William & Mary tourism metrics.

The task force, which is now serving as an advisory committee, is  in the process of working toward those goals with the help of regional partners and individuals throughout campus.

Work on several of the goals has already begun, including defining the desired on-campus tourism experience.

“President Reveley describes the whole area as a national treasure,” said Sledge, “and it would be good for people to understand and to see the role that the College has in that national treasure.”

“We have historic buildings. We were a part of the formation of higher education in our country, and so for people to come and experience that in a 21st-century setting, I think, is rather unique,” said Sledge, adding that the arts and sports are also an important part of what tourists can enjoy at the College.

The work of the tourism task force has helped “to strengthen our ties from an economic development standpoint with our regional partners,” Sledge said.

“What that does in turn, I believe, is lead to other opportunities to help build a stronger economy,” he said. “To the extent that the College helps to build a stronger regional economy, there will be career opportunities for students. I think it also helps to enhance the overall profile of the College. The more people we can expose to William & Mary the better.”

Sledge said he is very happy with what the task force accomplished.

“Anytime you’re bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and professional experiences to create something that is intended to do good, I’m always pleased with it,” he said.