WILLIAMSBURG-TowneBank recently sponsored a Conversations and Connections event in collaboration with College of William & Mary alumni to discuss the state of tourism in Virginia in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic.
Alexis Swann, president of Virginia Peninsula/Williamsburg Towne Bank, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President and CEO Cliff Fleet, Lynelle Haugabrook, co-chair of Placemaking and Marketing Committee for 757 Recovery Initiative, and former Williamsburg City Council member Benming Zhang, an associate attorney with Kaufman & Canoles, were all part of the panel during the online event, which was held July 15. It was the first in a series of talks.
Discussion centered on how the covid-19 pandemic impacted the tourism industry locally. Tourism is a $1.6 trillion industry, and a big driver of the economy in Virginia, with Colonial Williamsburg being one of the largest employers in Williamsburg. The pandemic and shutdown during the spring of 2020 resulted in $1.5 billion in lost revenue for Virginia.
While tourism was one of the most affected industries of the pandemic, “People are still people and like to have experiences, learn things, and be with other people,” Fleet said.
Now that the country is starting to recover, more travelers are visiting the area, while others have chosen to relocate to the area, which the panelists view as a positive. Partnerships among businesses have also been key to getting back on track. An example of collaboration that worked well during the past year has been TowneBanke providing some of the financing for outdoor seating, among other support for local businesses. Turning to social media to support businesses also helped.
“If we put our heads together and collaborate, it would benefit us all,” Swann said.
Other reflections taken from the pandemic and its aftermath as businesses move forward include finding ways to support staff and employees, thinking outside of the box, appreciating what you have, and living simpler.
The panelists hope to continue to see more improvement and plan to work together more to bring more visitors to the Williamsburg area as preparations begin to celebrate the nation’s 250th anniversary as well as the 100th anniversary of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2026.