MORE THAN A FAVORITE HONEYMOON DESTINATION
President and CEO
Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau
The Pocono Mountains have been a favorite destination for vacationers, whether it’s for family time, recreation or a romantic getaway. Most people, however, probably didn’t know that there is an 80-year-old visitors bureau that has been making sure people love their visits. Carl Wilgus, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, discusses the beauty of the tourism industry, staying true to the bureau’s vision, and what the future holds for the Pocono Mountains.
Q: What is the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau’s vision? How does the bureau live up to the mission statement every day?
A: Our vision is that the Pocono Mountains offer a convenient, easily accessible mountain, river, lake and place-in-the-country travel experience that enables you to get the most out of your time here, resulting in a lifetime of cherished memories with friends, family and colleagues. We work hard every day to live up to that mission by making sure that our communication to prospective visitors and industry members continues to reinforce and focus our mission. Our advertising attempts to highlight the very attributes that are synonymous with our vision.
Q: What challenges do you face when trying to reach populous nearby markets?
A: With New York and Philadelphia being the most and fourth-most expensive media markets in the country, it requires a very strategic approach to ensure that we are successful. So we focus our efforts at connecting with commuters. You’ll see our billboards on the major roadways leading into the cities as well as on rail cars and in train stations. Our television ads usually run around the local weather reports.
We are working diligently to move away from the former “honeymoon capital” image of the past. Our efforts to promote this historic brand were so effective that, while it has been more than 15 years since we aggressively promoted honeymooning in our area, many people still hold on to that perception. The reality is that pretty much all of those honeymoon resorts are gone or have been substantially repositioned. The Mount Airy Casino and Resort is a perfect example of that transformation.
Q: Why do visitors come to the Pocono Mountains? What do they do when they visit?
A: By far the number one reason visitors come to the Pocono Mountains is to spend time visiting with family and friends. That’s not to say that they don’t come to visit with people who live in the Pocono Mountains, but that this is the place for family and friends to congregate. The idea of “celebration vacations” drives many of the groups and family reunions we currently see.
The outdoors also is a big factor, as our visitors seek a “getaway experience” to enjoy nature, our clean air and water, and the outdoor recreation that accompanies that environment. In the summers, things like hiking, biking, floating and paddling on our waters would lead the list. In fact, visitors to the Pocono Mountains are twice as likely to participate in an outdoor recreation activity than the national average. In the winter, alpine skiing and snowboarding, along with tubing and cross-country skiing dominate the outdoor recreation activities.
Q: What new attractions do you have in the works?
A: In the first half of 2015, we have two major new resorts coming online. In March, the $165 million, 459-room Camelback Lodge hotel and 125,000 square-foot indoor water park Aquatopia will begin operations. Then in June, phase one of the Kalahari Resort will open with a 452-room hotel, 100,000 square-foot indoor water park, outdoor water park and 65,000 square feet of meeting space. We also expect several other entertainment, shopping, dining and retail developments to announce in 2015. In total, over the next five to seven years, the Pocono Mountains will see upwards of $1.5 billion in new tourism investments.
Q: What do you see as the future of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau?
A: With the new attractions and lodging coming on board and the enhanced marketing opportunities they will provide, I see a brighter, more productive future ahead for the Pocono Mountains. We will appeal to a larger segment of the leisure travel industry and our key target markets will also expand as we begin to draw increasing numbers of visitors out of the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia. I truly believe that the best days for the Pocono Mountains lie ahead of us, rather than behind.
Q: How did the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau come about? Tell us a little about the history.
A: The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau was actually born out of an advertising agency established in 1934 by several resort owners who realized that it would be much easier and more cost-effective to promote themselves collectively by pooling their resources than going it alone or competing with one another. It was that simple idea that evolved over time into the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. Today the bureau has a nearly $6 million annual tourism marketing budget that is used to promote this area as a leisure travel destination.
Q: What impacts have you seen in the community and the Pocono Mountains from the bureau’s tourism efforts?
A: Without a doubt, there is an understanding that tourism is the leading industry and largest employer in the region. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development reports that the Pocono Mountains are the most tourism-dependent region in the Commonwealth, as tourism generates in excess of $3 billion annually to the local economy. More than 34 percent of the employment in the region is tied to the tourism and hospitality industry. Even more surprising is the fact that this 34 percent generates more than 49 percent of the labor income. Without a doubt, tourism is the industry that drives the Pocono Mountains.
Q: How has the bureau evolved over 80 years in business?
A: The goals of the Visitors Bureau have not changed much over the years, but what has dramatically changed is the way we do our jobs. Enhancements in technology and the continual addition of new distribution channels have changed dramatically. The internet and proliferation of hand-held communication devices and tablets have fundamentally changed our communications strategy with prospective visitors. Potential visitors no longer have to call or write for information to be sent to them, or to attend a tourism trade show. They simply Google what they want and it’s instantly there for them to see.
Q: How many people visit the Pocono Mountains and where do they come from?
A: Our research is very clear. Generally speaking, of the more than 25 million visitors we see annually, 75 percent are residents of Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York. We are primarily a regional travel destination that draws people from the urban and suburban markets of New York and Philadelphia.