From Kennywood to the Pocono Mountains. Pennsylvania is rich with tourist destinations – either big or small. The job estimates have been down about 13% from February. Since February 2021, Pennsylvania has sustained around 29 percent loss, with tourism jobs going from 584,000 to 414,800 by August 2021. Tourism accounted for 9.5 percent of employment in Pennsylvania, while others were somewhat dependent/related to the tourism industry.
Months before Covid-19 changed the world, the Poconos Mountains in northern Pennsylvania were tested. A month-long review process of the dam and water released in the Lehigh River supports the tourism industry in the area that brings in millions of dollars every year. But as usual, the weather caused hindrance in the process, as stated by the CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau (PMVB)
The March brought disaster. The all-season holiday destination, which 28 million visitors visited in 2018 (as recorded), and the region primarily depended on tourism, had to close. The indoor water parks that gave a new experience to the area, the family resorts with regular visits and patrons, and all the other local shops and exciting attractions were halted and focused on stopping the spread of the deadly virus.
The situation was bleak, with all hospitals gearing up for the surge in patients and nonprofits providing relief for those living in the margins. But the situation did not affect the partnership of all the sectors, including finance, education, and health, to provide good public service and create strategies to deal with the new normal.
It is essential to note that the tourism industry in the Poconos provides jobs to nearly 35,000 individuals and creates $282 million in local and state tax revenues, contributing to 64% development in the region.
Within months of the outbreak, Poconos recorded some of the worst impacts in the tourism industry
- 70% of the operators stated that the restaurants accumulated debt since the epidemic’s beginning.
- 62% of the operators recorded more expenses from March 2020.
- 84% of them indicated that their restaurants didn’t generate enough profits.
- The sharp increase in the cost of the restaurants led to higher menu prices during the steady sales growth in 2021.
Towards the bright side
As the spring went bleak, there was a ray of hope in summer. Chris Barrett, president and CEO of Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau, says, “We also saw on our websites that the organic search numbers were fairly high. They were higher than comparable periods last year. And that’s without us spending a whole lot on marketing, so we knew that people had an interest. They wanted to get out, there was some cabin fever.”
He also added that the searches on the site increased by 16% more than 2019’s record. People are searching for an escape and are more willing to take trips to the Poconos. “During the lockdown period, it was very clear that people were not going to fly domestically, they were not going to fly internationally, they were not going on a cruise, which meant that they were going to drive,” Barrett said. “And they were willing to drive 100, 200-mile radius away from their homes to see friends and family, and to engage in recreational activities where there’s a large outdoor component so they can make the social distance.”
According to the Airbnb report, there was a 100% increase in the business throughout the Poconos in short-term rentals compared to 2019. Nearly half of the accounted guests came from cities within 300 miles and two-thirds coming from 500 miles.
Covid-19 impact on short rentals
Barrett stated that Covid-19 had pushed the short-term rentals market, especially in Poconos. Many towns and pristine locations have become attractive, especially for New York or New Jersey travelers.
It became a hot item considering that you can still go over to a destination and be away from people, and you don’t have to be around other people. Living in the city prompts more chances of running onto people. The isolated outdoor short-term rentals provide distance and privacy for those looking for an escape.
“If people were in the city and they wanted to get away from the city, they came here, they took a rental for like 30 days and worked remotely from here,” Barrett said.
In June 2020 and June 2021, the occupancy percentage for short-term rentals in Poconos rose by almost 40% – from 31.7% to 71.3%. Even the average rate per day for booking a cabin or any other short-term rental rose from $149 to $244 in June 2021, which helped to increase the overall revenue.
The bureau recorded 2021 as the best year for tourism – the total revenue in the first quarter being $3. Million and total $1.1 million in net income. It is no doubt that the hotel and short-term rental taxes are also increasing, with hotel tax revenue reaching $2.9 million.
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau has since raised 12 million from hotel and occupancy tasks, placing Poconos in second place amongst the other 11 regions of Pennsylvania.
Successive lockdowns and increase in cases
When Poconos was on the revival, the increase in cases across the state added additional restrictions on the capacity of the restaurants, which was a massive blow to the industry. The restaurants with only ten tables will face a significant challenge as it would be difficult to profit.
But the good part is that the Poconos has a solid capacity to reinvent itself and find ways to keep the region alive. With innovative leadership being the backbone of the recovery, Barrett believes that Poconos will make it through all the seasons and beyond.
The recent renovations and improvements amid declining cases indicate that the Poconos is set to thrive again.