By Peter Becker
Beaming with optimism, Carl Wilgus, Executive Director of the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau (PMVB) briefed Pike County Commissioners Nov. 21st, on an encouraging economic sign.
Wilgus noted that an important benchmark for measuring the Pocono tourism industry, that of overnight lodging, reached a new record this past fiscal year.
Overnight stays, recorded by the lodging tax generated in the region, surpassed the 2007-2008 season, after which hotels and other lodging accommodations saw a dip with the rest of the national economy.
The PMVB markets tourism for the four-county region of Wayne, Pike, Monroe and Carbon.
As told in the 2012 PMVB Annual Report, the lodging tax generated $4,620,881 during the 2011-2012 fiscal year across the four counties. This was a "modest gain" from the previous record set in 2008. The 3% tax is disbursed within the Pocono region for projects promoting tourism.
PMVB also recorded over 10 million visitations to 77 different locations and attractions throughout the Poconos and witnessed increased visits at the four PMVB visitor centers and on their web site.
Although the 2011-2012 winter was very poor for ski resorts, lodging was still up. Wilgus suggested that at least more people were "able to get out of their driveways" to reach the Poconos.
The 2011 tourist season was also beset by a hurricane and tropical storm, that affected the normally busy Labor Day Weekend.
Wilgus stated that they are now considering what impact on tourism may come from the arrival of Hurricane Sandy last month, which did much damage to the New Jersey coast and parts of New York. The question is whether more people will be using their vacation funds for repairs, or perhaps more will take less costly get-aways to the Poconos instead of longer trips.
Another initiative PMVB is taking is to encourage school districts in the region to adjust their calendars to open following Labor Day.
Wallenpaupack Area School District has done this for many years.
PMVB is backing legislation that would actually require school districts to wait till after Labor Day to open classes. Wilgus notes that a high percentage of businesses in the tourism & hospitality industry utilize high school students, and have a difficult time recruiting others who will be available when the students go back to school.
Pre-Labor Day school opening also impacts families’ ability to vacation, thus lessening the financial benefit they would have on the tourist economy.
Research done in 2006 showed that state-wide, approximately $400 million in tourist dollars goes by unrealized as a result of schools opening in late August. There would also be a savings of around $100 million to school districts in heating and energy costs if they were open in early June rather than late August.
PMVB has attended school board meetings at 17 school districts to discuss the issue. Wilgus states that as a result, Pocono Mountain School District and Stroudsburg School District have decided to change to a post-Labor Day start date.
At the Commissioners’ meeting were several officials from the Delaware Valley School District, including Superintendent John Bell. Wilgus was told at the meeting that the District is currently surveying parents to see what adjustments to the school calendar would be preferred. One of the three options includes changing the start date from late August, to after Labor Day.
"Option Three" would have students start class on Tuesday, September 3, 2013; the first two options have a start date of August 26.
Wilgus also highlighted the improved PMVB web site, and discussed their expansion in marketing the Poconos with social media. The live video feeds on the web site include 17 locations in the Poconos, including Lake Wallenpaupack. He said that PMVB would like to add cameras in downtown Hawley and in downtown Milford. Visits to the live video feed totaled over 1.9 million in January-August of this year.
For more information online, visit:
Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau
www.800poconos.comDelaware Valley School District