Tourism opportunities increase in NEPA
Regional resort development is expected to provide jobs and additional visitors in the coming year, but increased promotion and activity in neighboring states will challenge the region, according to Carl Wilgus.
Wilgus, the executive director of the Pocono Mountain Vacation Bureau (PMVB) and Lake Wallenpaupack Visitor Center manager Keith Williams reported to the Wayne County Commissioners on December 19.
Overall, Wilgus described July 2012 through June of this year as a “record year” for the four-county region including Wayne, Pike, Carbon and Monroe counties.
Wilgus said the region’s success was based on “what we do, not Harrisburg.” The bulk of PMVB funding comes through a room tax administered by counties.
While the state does not fund PMVB, its efforts have in past been complemented by state tourism efforts, but Wilgus expressed disappointment about cuts in state spending. “We’ve lost money in marketing, from $44 million to $7 million in marketing,” he said while New York and New Jersey are “stepping up” their promotions.
“We’re losing on that. We’re doing better than other regions, but we’re still losing marketing share.”
He said every $10 million lost in state marketing translates to $30 million lost in state revenues. With relatively light resident populations, “most of our infrastructure here would not exist,” without the money brought in by visitors, Wilgus said.
“That’s why we pushed for post-Labor Day school openings,” Williams added.
“Tourism is our engine for economic development,” Wilgus said.
Monster water park
To that end, Wilgus said new water park development will bring growth to an already successful recreational use in the region. He said that Kalahari Resorts has acquired the 150-acre Old West Golf Course in Monroe County.
Wilgus said the resort, to be completed in two phases, is expected to open phase one in 2015 and eventually offer 1,200 rooms. Its 300,000 square feet of indoor water-park activities will be the largest of its kind in North America. While skiing and golf are important in the region, Wilgus said water parks present a draw for a much larger portion of the population: “Eighty-five percent are potential candidates; those are big numbers,” he said.
Its 300,000 square-feet of meeting/convention space will rival Pittsburgh’s convention space and make the Poconos a competitor for major conventions, Wilgus said.
Wilgus said this is the first phase of a two-phase program.
Wayne hunting and fishing
While he congratulated them on their efforts, commissioners’ chair Brian Smith said he wanted to see more attention paid to
Wayne County hunting and fishing opportunities.
He noted that the fishing guide distributed with each fishing license carries advertising from other PA and New York areas, but nothing of Wayne County. “I want to advertise our area,” he said.
Wilgus admitted that this was “the kind of thing we need to look at.”
Smith went on to note that Wayne hunting should also be marketed. “We’re seeing bucks harvested that rival and exceed the expectations of people who go west to hunt.”
In other business, Wayne’s $29.97 million proposed 2014 county budget was adopted last Thursday. It contains no tax increase despite a planned spending increase of $175,000 and funding reductions in several state and federal programs administered by the county.
The commissioners said the spending increase, despite an unchanged tax rate, was made possible by a combination revenues and savings.
While overall state aid has been reduced, state revenues for the housing of state prisoners at the county correctional facility have increased. The county has savings because improvements in the performance of pension fund investments no longer require supplemental contributions provided by the commissioners over the past three years.