Lancaster County tourism on track for another record year | Local company

Lancaster County tourism is hot like the flames from the balloons that brought nearly 18,000 visitors to the fields near Bird-in-Hand last month.

“We had a lot of guests from the tri-state area,” said John Smucker, owner of the grounds where the Lancaster Balloon Festival and Fairgrounds were held, as well as hotels, restaurants, a cafe and a bakery in East Lampeter Township. “This has a significant positive impact on the accommodation industry. Most hotels are booked. Some balloonists had to travel 20 to 30 minutes to find hotel rooms.

The turnout for the festival is just one sign that Lancaster County tourism is on track for another record year despite an ongoing struggle to recruit workers and fewer coach travelers. A new record would exceed 9.13 million visitors who spent $2.3 billion here in 2021, according to Tourism Economics. The tally is critical to the health of the county’s economy, with the tourism sector ranking ninth in employment.

Some tourism measures have exceeded pre-pandemic levels, continuing a trend that began in 2021.

Hotel revenue for June, July and August was about $78 million, 15% higher than last summer’s tally of just over $68 million, according to Discover Lancaster. Labor Day weekend 2022 saw 20,756 room nights, an industry measure of hotel room stays. That’s a 22% increase from Labor Day 2021, 16,981.

With 18,000 visitors for the two-day event, the hot air balloon festival brought the busy summer momentum into the fall harvest and Christmas season, said Smucker and Ed Harris, president and CEO of management of Discover Lancaster, the county tourist agency.

“When summer ends the last week of August, Labor Day is the last hurrah of summer for 30 to 40 years, but it’s not like that anymore,” Smucker said.

Morning balloons take off at the Lancaster Hot Air Balloon Festival at Bird-in-Hand, Sunday September 18, 2022.

The 12-year-old balloon festival was supposed to expand into 2020 but was canceled due to the pandemic. It falls on the third weekend in September, well after Labor Day, and it joins the county’s third-highest tourist month — October, Harris said. Visitors are willing to spend at area restaurants as well as hotels, Smucker said. The festival’s $10 to $30 entrance fee included life-size lawn games, a corn maze, and a musical stage. Hot air balloon rides started at $200 and this year a helicopter ride was added.

“It’s the second largest (balloon festival) on the East Coast,” Smucker said, and referred to the valley between Bird-in-Hand and New Holland which has a large Amish community. “It just has a different feel to other hot air balloon festivals. There are so many unique elements of this culture that draw people in. It’s just one of those unimaginable panoramic views of Lancaster County that’s just unforgettable.They take you to the valley without wires, one of the most picturesque places.


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Harris calls the hot air balloon festival one of the signature harvest season events where visitors come to the county for fall attractions such as Field of Screams, corn mazes, apple picking and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

Queen Elizabeth Regina Gloriana (Jules Schrader) speaks to children in Discovery Garden during Oktoberfest at the Renaissance Faire on Sunday, October 2, 2022.

The Fair already had its first day of sales of the season on Sept. 17, nearly a month earlier than usual, said Candace Smith, director of sales and communications. A sale is 10,000 tickets. Adult admission is $35.95.

“It was actually kind of a surprise to us,” Smith said, noting that all tickets have been pre-purchased online since 2020. “We had been watching ticket sales over the weeks. Saturday morning , probably around 8:30 they were gone Last year we sold every Saturday in October.

She predicts that the Fair will see 250,000 visitors, including the summer events.

Harris said national trends in family, romance and road trips play into Lancaster’s strengths. He said the county expects to capitalize on travelers’ interest in new places and locations where they can be active.

Discover Lancaster has been focused on improving its website and social media marketing, Harris said. The number of website users this summer increased by 21% compared to 2021, from 580,831 to 705,598. The increase from 2019 to 2022 is 68%, from 419,264 to 705,598.

Harris said Discover Lancaster spent $500,000 on marketing this summer in New York, an expensive but key market. This year, he plans to spend $300,000 of $1 million U.S. bailout funds designated to uncover Lancaster by county commissioners.

Ready for harvest season and holidays

Harris said Discover Lancaster promotes television advertising and podcasts. To connect with audiences in Baltimore and Washington, DC, the organization places digital advertisements through the Baltimore Ravens.

Discover Lancaster is expanding its reach in the New Haven, Connecticut market with an advertising service that wraps cars with Discover Lancaster advertisements.

George Zagas of Aura Espresso Room prepares a cappuccino in his North Queen shop in Lancaster on Wednesday September 28, 2022. Discover Lancaster is launching a new coffee trail where 20 shops along the trail will offer discounts and stamps so visitors can earn Discover loot.

A new cafe trail was launched last month that promises to warm up spending in the area by creating a curated map of cafes. The trail offers discounts in shopping and tourism.

“The holidays are right around the corner and we’re excited for the theater season,” Harris said.

“YTD for 2022 is ahead of 2021 and that’s remarkable because 2021 was a record year. It topped 2019. There’s still a final quarter to go, so we’re cautiously optimistic about the likelihood of ending 2022 before 2021.”

Harris said Discover Lancaster is building on a partnership launched in the spring with Southern Airways, Lancaster Airport’s main commercial carrier, to bring qualified meeting planners to the county. He said few meeting planners had time to visit even for a free trip, so Discover Lancaster plans to visit them in the future.

Staff and the Changing Traveler Landscape

For Smucker, staffing shortages continue to hamper the growth of Bird-in-Hand attractions.

“I would say overall our activity is 85% to 90% normal compared to 2019 and before,” Smucker said. “We are on our way back. If we had enough staff, we could do more. Our reservations are quite positive. We’re going to have a good fall. Our theatrical experiences have good attendance and bus traffic is on its way back.

Harris said the tourism industry continues to put pressure on recruiting workers, but is putting more emphasis on retention so it doesn’t have to recruit more.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24,100 people worked in recreation and hospitality in July in Lancaster County. That’s about 100 more than last July, but still 3,500 less than July 2019.

Costs have gone up and wages have gone up, Harris said, which is impacting profits.

The “lodging community is having another banner year for revenue,” Harris said. “Knowing that they have been able to charge higher rates than in the last five years, it’s amazing the boost tourism has had. One question right now – no one has a crystal ball – as they wrap up two years of phenomenal growth, is it sustainable? »

Durability depends, in part, on labor costs.

Some companies, like Renaissance Faire, have found some success in adapting to the pandemic. He reduced the front door staff when he implemented the fully online ticketing system. Where it once occupied eight counters all day, it now has two customer service employees and four scanners every day.

Harris said business travel, including conventions, has recovered but still lags behind pre-pandemic levels. It is likely to be affected by economic concerns in the corporate sector and, depending on the economy, this type of travel may not fully rebound until the third quarter of 2023.

Strasburg Township’s Sight & Sound theaters have dropped group tours, but that’s not reflected in overall ticket sales, said Katie Miller, director of corporate communications.

David's Sight & Sound Theater production

The cast of “David” is rehearsing in preparation for the Saturday, March 12, 2022, opening of the new Sight & Sound Theater show.

Miller said about 35% of ticket sales for “David,” which premiered this year, are group sales. The pre-COVID average was about 50% tickets. Still, 750,000 tickets have been booked so far, which is comparable to the last premiere, “Jesus,” in 2018, when 850,000 tickets were booked.

Miller said it’s not yet clear what’s driving the change or if it’s a permanent change.

“We are all curious,” she says. “In our group trips, we encounter fewer real buses. Of the groups we had, about 50% came by bus.

Others booked group tickets and came in cars and vans. This has the potential to create parking problems if the abandonment of bus travel is long-term.

“Right now we’re feeling exceptionally optimistic,” Miller said. “October is almost 90% ticketed (sold) and we are very close to November. As ticket sales continue, we are looking for a very strong Fall and Christmas.”

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