The tourism industry dominates the regional economy, yet it is not something to be left behind as Wayne Tomorrow! works to diversify its industry profile. Instead, the tourism industry needs to be valued as a significant partner in economic and community development.
Thanks to visionary leadership and some good timing, the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau (PMVB) stands poised to help make that happen, according PMVB President & CEO Chris Barrett.
The evolution began a decade ago as the recession saw the end of many of the large, couples-only resorts that earned the Poconos its fame as a honeymoon destination. At about the same time, the PMVB, which is the official tourism agency for Wayne, Pike, Monroe and Carbon Counties, completed a rebranding.
Barrett said it was construction of the indoor waterparks at Camelback, Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari and Split Rock Resorts that dramatically changed the character of the Pocono Mountains brand, helping to transform the region into an adventure destination.
With the four-county area located an easy day’s drive from millions of people in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Washington, DC, our forests, lakes and rivers beckon visitors who want to get out of the city.
The new Pocono Television Network, now in 3.2 million homes, plays a huge role in generating visitor interest, Barrett explained. “It allows us to show so much more of the area, to engage people and dig deeper.” At 2,400 square miles, Barrett said the Pocono Mountains cover an area larger than the state of Delaware with all the unique and charming places and events that go with it, including two major train excursions and trendy small towns like Jim Thorpe, Hawley, Honesdale and Milford.
For the past few years, PMVB has worked closely with the county commissioners and community nonprofit organizations on the distribution of Hotel Tax dollars, collected by each county on overnight accommodations and meant to promote events that encourage overnight stays.
Barrett said these partnerships allow PMVB to leverage better advertising rates for everyone and incorporate the events into their larger marketing and promotional campaigns. Something the agency has offered to other groups like East Stroudsburg University and the Pocono Mountains United Way.
“We were hoping to do the same thing for the economic development agencies, too,” he explained.
Everything came to a screeching halt in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions took hold, devastating the hospitality industry. “Our role changed,” Barrett said. PMVB immediately turned to communicating important public health messages. Barrett said the agency had the skills, the equipment and access to media outlets to get the message out there.
As the pandemic restrictions began to ease and people started to look for ways to beat the lock-down blues, their eyes turned, naturally, to the nearby Pocono Mountains.
In an effort to reassure visitors, PMVB launched a continuing campaign called “Pocono Promise,” in which businesses from lodgings and resorts to restaurants and dentist offices pledged to meet or exceed CDC safety recommendations and do all they could to keep their staff and visitors safe.
Barrett said the campaign resonated with local business owners who were grateful for something positive to rally around and with visitors looking for reassurances as they finally ventured out.
Despite the enormous pandemic challenges or perhaps because of them, the Pocono Mountains Brand is stronger than ever. Recent statistics show the Pocono Mountains has been experiencing higher occupancy and average daily room rates than any other region of the state – even outperforming Hershey.
More people want to come to the Pocono Mountains to get away from it all, and they are willing to pay top dollar to do it.
Tourism serves as a kind of first impression in economic development. For many new residents, their relationship with our area stems from a visit to the Pocono Mountains for a wedding, vacation, conference or other occasion. That makes a well-placed economic development message a critical part of attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs.
PMVB wants to do even more, according to Barrett. He said the PMVB board has recognized the agency has an important role to play in larger regional issues such as housing, and has committed to helping the community meet those challenges.