Gettysburg is not Colonial Williamsburg. While many have tried to draw comparisons, when it comes down to the visitor experience, Gettysburg and Colonial Williamsburg are very different. But on the other hand, both destinations - Jamestown and Gettysburg - came off nationally recognized anniversaries a few years back and have experienced different outcomes in the years that followed.
We are thankful, and proud, that Gettysburg has not only maintained visitation from its 150th Anniversary in 2013, but tourism has increased slightly year-to-year since. While we cannot credit any one factor, Destination Gettysburg is certain that its shift in marketing to showcase a wider variety of experiences within and beyond history was important to our recent success.
But nonetheless, some of the information provided in the article - especially that of declining interest in American history - is alarming but is something that many of us have suspected for a few years now. The lapse in educating Americans at an early age - even through college, as the article states - is leading to a declining interest in actually visiting historic destinations. For those in the business of history - museums, tour companies and historic sites - this is a reality that's likely to exist for the foreseeable future.
We must, as a tourism community, reshape the perception of a historic destination. Visitors - especially younger travelers - may not consider history-rich getaways because they lack the knowledge of both American heritage and what a destination such as Gettysburg and Adams County have to offer.
But there is good news. Research shows that travelers, more than ever, are looking for engaging experiences - something that Adams County continues to offer its visitors. The more ways we can engage travelers with personal, hands-on and interactive experiences, the more competitive that Adams County will be in the travel market.
We must always think big, think outside the box, but most importantly, we must always be changing, and that's why I'm sharing this article with you today.
Jennifer Tiedemann and Karen Marsico
One of the country's most well-known tributes to the Revolutionary era is on the brink of financial ruin. Mitchell Reiss, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's president and CEO, released an open letter at the end of June revealing that Colonial Williamsburg, which markets itself as "the world's largest living history museum," is in dire financial straits.
Reiss wrote that in 2016, Colonial Williamsburg lost an average of $148,000 every day. The debt burden of the Foundation stood at a staggering $317 million at the end of last year. A big part of this burden, Reiss noted, resulted from heavy borrowing to construct a new visitor center and make other hospitality-related improvements around the time of Jamestown's 400th anniversary in 2007.
But the bump in attendees surrounding the Jamestown anniversary didn't last.
After the late 1980s saw several years in which the number of ticketed visitors topped 1 million, ticket sales in 2016 were about half that. The gravity of this situation has now led Colonial Williamsburg to outsource many of its functions (including operations of its 19 retail stores and three golf courses) and to eliminate dozens of jobs. These weren't easy decisions, according to Reiss, but they were necessary to save Colonial Williamsburg.
Now that the foundation is taking steps to get its financial house in order, the next big question is why visitors aren't showing up.
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