Message from the President
Tough Questions, Cogent Answers
The Web site carries at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/Foundation/Annualrpt02/ a streamlined version of Colonial Williamsburg's annual report, a review of the year 2002, which also appears as a center section in the printed version of the summer journal.
The review profiles a dynamic Colonial Williamsburg with urgent financial challenges; a foundation with strong donor support, but declining admissions income; a private nonprofit facing tough questions, and actively seeking cogent answers.
Competition for travel dollars has increased since the 1980s, and our recent experience confirms just how sensitive tourism can be to economic and security concerns. To complicate matters, at historic sites across the country, visitation is falling. Although we fare better than many, Colonial Williamsburg's numbers have dropped five of the past ten years, were flat in two, and rose in three but 2-4 percent. Seasonal sales swings—we welcome 100,000 more guests on average in July than in January—result in resources and attendance being inefficiently matched.
We are experiencing significant financial imbalance. That imbalance reflects not only the constriction of profits because of lower visitation but decisions over many years to improve and, in some cases, expand facilities, programming, infrastructure, and staff professionalism. We must reduce this unacceptable financial exposure and implement a plan to achieve budgetary equilibrium by 2006 through operational efficiencies and revenue enhancement.
Attrition, elimination of positions, reduced hours, and temporary layoffs have contributed to good progress in the first quarter of 2003 but will not likely suffice over the longer term. As one step, we have closed Carter's Grove to study its facilities needs and capital requirements while examining carefully its programmatic role and relationship to the Historic Area.
In our planning we are emphasizing that Colonial Williamsburg is "one foundation," that working relationships are synergistic, and that by adopting a collaborative approach we are far more likely to assure that the excellence of the guest experience will be not only maintained but enhanced. Responsiveness to guests' interests consistent with our educational and preservation mission is critical if we are to significantly increase ticket sales during the next few years. And we are determined to do so.
To that end we are expanding staff training; emphasizing excellence in food, lodging, and service; improving internal and external communications; and maximizing the benefits to guests of new facilities. We are coordinating the maintenance and preservation of the Historic Area buildings to assure authenticity while encouraging efficiency; making better use of information technology; and ensuring that in all our efforts, including outreach, public relations, marketing, and sales, we are committed to quality performance through effective teamwork.
Quality sets Colonial Williamsburg apart. Quality makes the difference. That is especially true of programming. Program excellence, not numbers of offerings, is what counts. That suggests that we should do less across the board, but do it all very well.
We are focusing more on the eighteenth century, eliminating such nineteenth-century topics as the Civil War. Our métier is colonial America, the Revolutionary War, and the idea of America fostered here for all people, for all time. Presenting those subjects as well as possible is our obligation and first priority.
We are enhancing the guest experience through increased hands-on activities at the trades sites. There are additional family-oriented programs, more Fifes and Drums performances, and multi-day special events. We are adding African and Native American interpretations, and we have reopened Bassett Hall, the Williamsburg home of John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
To detail our plan would require pages and pages, but our objective can be summarized in a phrase or two: to ensure forever Colonial Williamsburg's ability to achieve its mission—that the future may learn from the past.
Colin G. Campbell