Colonial Williamsburg losing money to unticketed visitors, memo says

(Aaron Kurtz/WAVY Photo)

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) – Unticketed visitors could be costing Colonial Williamsburg millions, according to a memo the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation shared with city council members.

The memo was first requested by local news site WYDaily and says the absence of a fence or “managed access” is potentially costing the museum between $1.4 million and $2.3 million per year. The foundation said a survey estimated that more than 70,000 guests visited the area without a ticket.

Marc Belanger, who was in town with family from Northern Virginia, said if the foundation changes its access, it will need to sell it to visitors.

“I understand that they’re doing this math and saying that if every person had to buy a ticket, that’s what it would be, but honestly, they’ve got the college here, they’ve enmeshed themselves in this neighborhood, so again, I kind of put it on them to figure out a way to make it compelling for you to go across the street and buy the ticket,” he said.

City spokesperson Lee Ann Hartmann said the foundation shared its memo with individual council members in late February and early March, but nothing has been proposed. All streets in the historic area are public and owned by the city, she said. Several decades ago, the city limited access to Colonial Williamsburg when Duke of Gloucester Street was closed to vehicle traffic, Hartmann said.

“I feel that if folks want to have access to the inner workings, then they should require a ticket, that makes sense, but I think that pedestrians use this street an awful lot and that it should continue as such,” said Dawn Kean, who was visiting from Richmond.

WAVY News contacted all members of city council and sent a list of questions to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and received the following statement from president and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss:

My top priority is protecting the treasure that is Colonial Williamsburg. The memo we provided to the city is a more detailed update regarding the challenges Colonial Williamsburg faces as a result of our open campus. We feel it’s important to be open and transparent about the significant revenue impact attributable to unticketed guests. As we work cooperatively with the community to strengthen Colonial Williamsburg, it’s important for all those who care about it to know the facts as we think through plans for the future.”