- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Colonial Williamsburg yesterday announced it will cut 20 percent of its programs and lay off almost 100 employees to help balance its budget.

“This will not ensure [that our budget is balanced] but it will help us get closer to that goal,” said Tim Andrews, director of public relations.

Mr. Andrews blamed the downsizing on modern technology and the aftereffects of September 11, which have caused the entire tourism industry to suffer.

“The generally agreed-upon reason is we are a nation of people who frankly prefer to sit at home and watch TV, [surf the] Internet, or play video games,” said Mr. Andrews. “Tourism isn’t improving.”

Colin G. Campbell, Colonial Williamsburg’s president and chairman, said the cuts are needed.

“A realistic assessment of our business and competitive situation has led to the conclusion that these steps, while difficult, are essential,” Mr. Campbell said in a written statement.

Diane Bechamps, vice president of marketing for the Virginia Tourism Corp., called news of the layoffs “upsetting,” and attributed the downturn in local tourism partly to the bad weather this year.

“I hope the downsizing doesn’t affect the product,” she said.

Colonial Williamsburg will lay off 95 employees, including managers, administrative staff and interpreters. Most of the layoffs will take effect at the beginning of 2004; however, a few employees have been laid off effective immediately.

Mr. Andrews said the downsizing coincides with the results of a review of all Historic Area operations to identify core programs and sites as part of a new operating model. In the past year the foundation increased programs geared toward families with children and extended the presence of the popular fife-and-drum corps around town.

“The story we tell here is very literally the story of America … and the story of how America came to be is not going to change [because of these cutbacks]; what has changed is how Americans like to receive that information,” Mr. Andrews said.

Depending on the season, some 3,200 to 3,500 people are employed by Colonial Williamsburg, which already had reduced the staff by more than 100 since June 2002, Mr. Andrews said.

“Unfortunately the enhancements … have not made up the gap for us to balance our budget,” he said.

Earlier this year, Colonial Williamsburg announced conflicting messages on the state of its financial affairs. In 2002, ticket sales fell to the lowest level in four decades, as the park grappled with a $35 million deficit and its endowment dipped by more than $105 million. In 2002, annual donors reached more than 100,000 and the annual fund increased by nearly $1 million to $11.6 million — both all-time highs.

The layoffs will return staffing to mid-1990s levels, when paid attendance in the Historic Area of the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia was higher by about 150,000 visitors than it was last year.

“There was a lack of focus and a lack of clarity on the organization’s priorities,” said Mr. Andrews, referring to the increased employment at a time when tourism was declining.

The 301-acre historical-theme area typically receives from 5,000 to 8,000 visitors a day during the two weeks closest to Easter when many schools have field trips. Its slowest period is January and February when fewer than 1,000 people visit.

Colonial Williamsburg is operated by a nonprofit education institution, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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