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Tourism opportunities increase in NEPA

By DAVID HULSE
December 24, 2013

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