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February 3, 2009

CW reports 2008 ticket sales, endowment performance and fund raising results

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation reported its 2008 results for paid general admission and “visitor gate count,” achieved strong fund raising results and recorded endowment performance better than comparable institutions in an environment of global economic decline.


The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation achieved a “visitor gate count” for 2008 of nearly 1.3 million on paid general admission tickets of 707,000. Paid admissions were down 9 percent from the prior year, when the Foundation recorded 780,000 paid general admission tickets.

The “gate count” formula, introduced last year as a means of comparing the open setting of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area with attendance at “turnstile” sites, values tickets based on the length of stay associated with a particular ticket. Colonial Williamsburg sells a variety of one-day, two-day, longer stay and annual passes. For 2007, using this formula Colonial Williamsburg reported a gate count of 1.5 million relative to 780,000 paid general admission tickets. Based on more refined research, the Foundation expects to provide a more approximate measure of Historic Area attendance in the future; preliminarily, that research indicates the gate count number is much higher, approaching 2 million people.

The Historic Area and museums track other indicators beyond ticket sales to provide a comprehensive picture of total visitation. The extent of guest participation in the Foundation’s programs and experiences is illustrated further by the following information:

  • Sales of evening program tickets and carriage rides in 2008 totaled 301,000 tickets, 3% off the 2007 volume and flat to 2006. It is not necessary to have a general admission ticket to purchase evening program or carriage ride tickets; therefore, some guests choose this option and are not counted in the traditional total paid admission figure.
  • The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg recorded visitation of 218,000 in 2008 (8% off the prior year figure of 238,000).
  • Ridership on Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area buses surpassed 2.1 million, just under last year’s 2.2 million. In addition, Colonial Williamsburg’s buses provided shuttle service to more than 97,500 passengers to the other Historic Triangle sites of Jamestown and Yorktown.

    Interactive Outreach

    As one of the nation’s leading developers of educational resources for American history and civic education, Colonial Williamsburg has pioneered the use of media and technology in the social studies curriculum. Through the Internet, interactive television, and new technologies, Colonial Williamsburg enlivens the founding ideas of American democracy for students throughout the United States. The award-winning series of Electronic Field Trips broadcasts in more than 130 television markets and 17 state-wide educational systems and is distributed world-wide on the Internet. In 2008, the series reached students and teachers in 48 states and three countries for an estimated audience of 6 million viewers. Colonial Williamsburg’s web sites recorded more than 22 million visits (3 percent over 2007), with more than 180 million page views (an 85 percent increase).

    Fund Raising

    Total cash and object receipts exceeded $42 million, a 2% increase over 2007 and the highest level in many years. 2008 also was a record year for planned giving, which includes estate gifts and charitable trusts. In terms of annual giving, the total number of donors for 2008 was just over 110,000 households representing all 50 states, including nearly 20,000 families choosing to make a gift to the Foundation for the first time. Gifts from individuals in the Williamsburg area were up by 37%.


    The market value of the endowment was $624 million as of December 31, 2008, a decline of $196 million since December 31, 2007, reflecting the global decline in asset prices and withdrawals to support operating and routine capital expenditures during the calendar year. The endowment produced a total return of negative 18%, compared with declines of 37% and 43%, respectively, for the Standard & Poor’s 500 and MSCI EAFE Indices.

    Although the decline in value is considerable, the Foundation’s endowment derived significant benefit from a portfolio protection program that it had established in the spring of 2007. As a result, Colonial Williamsburg will be a leader among comparable endowed institutions in investment performance for the year. In a recent article in the New York Times, the author reported the average endowment declined 23% from June 30, 2008 through November, which is the first five months of the typical college’s fiscal year. During that period, the Foundation’s endowment declined 15%.

    “The relatively strong performance of our endowment as the markets have experienced record declines, and positive fund raising results at a time when people are re-evaluating and reducing contributions, have been encouraging indicators,” said Colin Campbell, president of Colonial Williamsburg. “Ticket sales performed relatively well during a time when many historic sites across Virginia and the nation have been challenged to attract visitors. Given continuing pressures on the economy, the travel outlook for 2009 is difficult to forecast. Colonial Williamsburg’s response in terms of strategic focus is to carry out our preservation and educational responsibilities, to attract guests by presenting engaging and important programs and memorable experiences, and to provide guest service of the highest quality.”

    Executive Leadership

    In other business, Richard G. Tilghman, chairman of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Board of Trustees, announced that Colin G. Campbell will continue to lead the Foundation as its president and chief executive officer through the end of 2010 and that the executive transition process begun last year has ended. Tilghman cited the Board’s desire for experienced leadership during extraordinarily challenging economic circumstances as the reason for the decision, and he stated that the Board had embraced with enthusiasm Campbell’s willingness to remain at the institution’s helm.

    “I speak for each member of the Board of Trustees in expressing delight and gratitude that Colin Campbell will continue to serve as the Foundation’s leader through this difficult time,” Tilghman said. “Continuity and proven leadership skill are invaluable qualities during such periods. At an appropriate time in the future the Board will initiate an executive search process.”

    Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution guests interact with history through “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation.

    Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

    Media Contact:
    Tom Shrout
    (757) 220-7265

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