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Williamsburg, Virginia Hotel Industry Completes another
Troubled Year with the Close of 2012

By Steve Vaughan, The Virginia Gazette, WilliamsburgMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 05, 2013--Although the tourism economy seemed to strengthen somewhat in 2012, the fallout from failures of the last few years continued to be felt, manifesting itself particularly in the troubles of the local hotel industry.

Hotel troubles

A roundup of hotels found that at least 18 had changed flags or closed since 2009, due to the recession and poaching by timeshares.

The slow implosion of the Williamsburg Hotel-Motel Association began with the demise of the all-important phone bank for reservations. By fall, the association imploded with the termination of the executive director and the resignation of the president and the head of the Tourist Information Center board.

Ron Kirkland, formerly of the Patrick Henry Inn, took over as executive director of the Hotel Association. But there was no president yet.

The Lexington George Washington was repurposed as an assisted living facility for retirees, but the plan had yet to begin.

Patriot Inn & Suites on Richmond Road shut down so the owners could determine whether to fix it or sell it.

Great Wolf Resorts was sold for an undisclosed sum to Apollo Global Management investment company. No changes were expected to be visible to the public at the Great Wolf Lodge here or those elsewhere.

Three conference hotels were in flux at once. The Crowne Plaza Fort Magruder went on the auction block. The former Williamsburg Marriott was bought by a private investment group, which pledged a $7.5 million investment. The Lexington George Washington was sold for half the assessment of $3.1 million and could yet be razed.

A streak of 10 months of higher hotel occupancy ended in July when the figure came in flat to a year ago at 63%. July used to average 80%.

Plans were to raze the iconic Patrick Henry Inn for unspecified redevelopment. The furniture was given to the ReStore operated by Habitat for Humanity.

Hotel occupancy rose in the first three quarters of the year compared to 2011, but devastation in the Northeast by Hurricane Sandy threatened the fourth quarter.

A new term: DMO

James City looked to establish tax and other incentives for a countywide Tourism Zone for those who put up $350,000 in new investment.

The county also considered using tourism promotion money to pay a tourism coordinator $70,000. County administrator Robert Middaugh quickly came up with something better: throwing in on a new "Destination Marketing Organization" promoted by the WADMC board to focus local advertising better. Chamber Alliance would take over the job of supervising the creation of the WADMC marketing plan. Starting in 2014 the plan will be created by a marketing pro who works for the Alliance. Ultimate authority for how to spend the just over $3 million in marketing money remains with the WADMC board. Some critics of the new plan said the board would now be only a rubber stamp. Carl Lum at Busch Gardens, chair of the WADMC board, emerged as the go-to leader for coordination and action on regional tourism. Hoteliers were dubious that things would improve as a DMO as long as the Alliance was in charge.

Sports events

Shortly after taking over Kingsmill Resort, Xanterra set out to reclaim the LPGA tournament on the River Course. The tournament drew big crowds on the weekend, mostly from the region. 1,300 volunteers helped.

Kingsmill Resort won the James City County award for business leadership for reviving the tournament and for 30 years of investment leading to more tourism and tax revenue.

Football University returned its Top Gun camp for a third year, which was thought to expand the economy by $2 million and 5,000 room nights.

It was going to take $100,000 upfront to secure an Ironman Triathlon, but the return was said to run into the millions. The triathlon was put off a year to allow more time to set the route and build sponsorships.

Cycling attracted new interest with word that Richmond will host the World Cycling Championships in 2015. Some 450,000 people are expected over nine days, and many could wind up staying in Williamsburg.

The new Revolution3 Triathlon was booked for June 2013 with more than 1,500 runners and their families streaming into town. About 4,800 room nights were projected.

A group of 16 disabled veterans finished their cross-country bicycle trip here as part of the "Sea to Shining Sea" tour.

Jamestown &¿Yorktown

Archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne turned to the Civil War to explore an 1860s fort, bomb shelter and barracks on the island. The Confederates at one point had 1,200 troops deployed to block Union ships from advancing up the James to Richmond.

Maritime Weekend in June was a big hit in Yorktown with the Godspeed and other ships arriving at Riverwalk Landing.

A special exhibition case was set up at the Archaearium at Historic Jamestowne to display the most recent discoveries, "right out of the ground."


(c)2013 The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.)

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