|By Tyra M. Vaughn, Daily Press, Newport
News, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 22, 2009--WILLIAMSBURG -- -- Representatives from the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee were lawyered up Monday afternoon as a controversy continued to brew over how the tourism organization books hotel stays through its Web site.
The marketing committee was created by the state in 2004 to use tax dollars to promote overnight tourism in the Historic Triangle. Leaders from the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association complained Monday that sometimes the Web site sent tourists to lodging outside of the Yorktown-Williamsburg-Jamestown triangle.
Association leaders said that since the marketing committee is funded through a $2-a-night, additional-room tax, sending anyone out of the Triangle could be illegal.
The controversy centers on the committee's Web site, visitwilliamsburg.com, which offers information on local tourist attractions, as well as a place to book lodging. Tourists can select a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast, timeshare or campground by looking through an alphabetical listing, or search for lodging near a particular attraction.
Until March, the committee site had booked lodging through the hotel and motel association's search engine, which included only association members. The association would receive a 12-percent commission off bookings, which would be used to pay employees and fund regional advertisement.
In an attempt to broaden tourists' options to include such lodging as timeshares and campgrounds, and non-association hotels and motels, the marketing committee switched to a new search engine that sometimes sent tourists to hotel or motel chains' corporate Web site. The problem, association leaders said, is if the selected days are full, those sites may send the interested tourist to another of its properties outside the Historic Triangle, instead of to another accommodation within the Triangle.
Association President Chris Canavos said with recent occupancy rates in the Triangle averaging below 50 percent, hoteliers can't afford to lose one customer.
"If we get them to stay here, the higher probability it is that they'll eat here and shop here," said Canavos, who is also a member of the marketing committee.
After the association brought up the legal question, Canavos and Williamsburg mayor Jeanne Zeidler, in addition to James City Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Kennedy and York County Board of Supervisor Chairman Walt Zaremba, who are also members of the committee, sought legal advice from their organizations' lawyers.
Lawyers from the localities provided written opinions Monday to the committee that they were operating the Web site legally, a position the hotel and motel association lawyers disputed. The committee ultimately decided to maintain the site as it is.
The hotel and motel association, which has since changed its search engine, asked Monday for the marketing committee to reconsider them as their booking agent. The marketing committee, which already provides a link to the association on its site, said it would consider adding it the alphabetical list of lodging options.
Taxes and tourism The Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee uses taxes to promote overnight tourism.
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