After a year where it rained roughly 50 percent of the days, the year-end Smith Travel Research report (STR) showed that it didn’t dampen the lodging industry in Adams County. For the third year in a row, demand for hotel/motel overnights was up 3.6 percent in 2018. This increase follows a record year in 2017 when demand was up 5.4 percent. The Bed & Breakfast industry saw a demand increase of 7.8 percent, the first-time demand increased in this segment in the last three.
Revenue was also up according to the STR report. The increase of 2.2 percent over 2018 follows on the heels of a 6.1 percent increase in 2017. The largest growth month for revenue was in the first quarter, showing 8.2 percent increase in January and 14.2 percent in March. Demand also showed the largest growth in those two months up 9.8-percent in January and 14.9 percent in March. The same trend was seen in the Bed & Breakfast segment for both demand and revenue. Overall revenue in this segment was up less than 1 percent.
“While 2018 was definitely impacted by weather, the Gettysburg Hotel saw an increase of 4 percent in RevPar growth over 2017,” said Andrea Proulx, Director of Sales and Marketing. “With a diverse clientele of business, wedding, leisure and groups, we have maintained a strong base and look to a solid 2019.” RevPar is revenue per available room.
It should be noted that overall supply of rooms was up in 2018 compared 2017 with the addition of the Best Western opening in May of 2017 and the Holiday Inn Express opening in August of 2017. This coupled with an increase of Airbnb offerings did show a slight decrease in occupancy of 1 percent. Occupancy levels in the Bed & Breakfast segment did see an increase in 2018 over 2017 by 7.8 percent while their supply did not change.
While the rain did hamper business for those in the industry who are outdoor dependent, many businesses saw an increase.
In town, historic house tours like the Shriver House saw an increase of 8 percent over previous years. “We can attribute some of our increase to walk-in business. We were able to do more marketing in 2018, specifically social media, and that coupled with referrals and TripAdvisor reviews drove people to our guided tours,” said Del Gudmestad, who along with wife Nancie, owns The Shriver House Museum.
As Destination Gettysburg continues to hone the tourism marketing strategy and messaging, the impact on the overall destination of expanding messaging can already be seen. With an expanded visitor experience throughout the county encompassing our history, agriculture, culinary and outdoor opportunities, the traditional visitors are embracing these experiences while generating a new visitor base to help sustain our industry.
Looking to the 2019 travel season, reports by STR and Tourism Economic forecast a continued growth in demand for the industry. With no new rooms slated to open in Adams County and several large conventions secured, the market should show strength again in 2019.
In the world of destination marketing, we spend 90 percent of our time looking forward. The 10percent we spend looking back is evaluating research and results so that we can do a better job of marketing to generate more visitation. So, when this time of years comes it is nice to take pause and look back at the progress made by the organization and the industry.
2018 began much like any other year. And then the rain began, and it seemed as though it would never end. In fact, by the end of the year it had rained more than half of the days in 2018. That will take its toll on tourism, especially if you run a business that relies on dry days. Event attendance was impacted, and for some, completely closed them down. When your largest attraction is outdoors, you must find ways to run between the raindrops and make the best of it. And in Adams County, we did just that.
With messaging in print, radio and online, Destination Gettysburg reached out to visitors near and far. And, even in the rain, they came. The year-end Smith Travel Research report (STR) showed that for the third year in a row, demand for hotel/motel overnights was up 3.6 percent in 2018. This increase follows a record year in 2017 when demand was up 5.4-percent. The Bed & Breakfast segment also saw a demand increase of 7.8 percent, the first-time demand increased for this accommodation type in the last three. Revenue was also up according to the STR report. The increase of 2.2 percent over 2018 follows on the heels of a 6.1 percent increase in 2017. Regardless of weather, the industry had grown.
In 2014, Destination Gettysburg had begun to tell the bigger story of the visitor experience in Adams County. We positioned ag-tourism, culinary and recreation up front with the history, instead of as support experiences. In doing so, it became clear through the interest of travel writers, travelers and tour operators that this ‘new’ product was exciting and desired. With that knowledge, and research into other similar experiences, the Destination Gettysburg team spent the winter months assembling a new experience - one that was from the earth, a very authentic Adams County experience that we knew our visitors would enjoy.
On May 11, 2018, the Adams County Pour Tour emerged touting over a dozen local craft beverage producers. Unlike other beverage trails that focus on wine or beer, our trail brought together all of our tastes and flavors – wine, cider, beer and spirits. Complete with a passport program that allows trekkers to collect stamps and earn prizes for enjoying our hand-crafted libations, the trail caught on quickly and has secured a following of locals as well as visitors. With a little help from the media, nearly 40 stories from national and regional journalists have been placed in various publications helping kick-start the enthusiasm. Since launch, over 13,000 stamps have been collected resulting in over 1,000 prizes, including a grand prize getaway to a lucky visitor from Maryland. Looking ahead at 2019, the Pour Tour continues with the potential of more stops and stamps being added, a new event in August and a branded concert series.
It is with the help of our frontline, Hospitality Heroes, that programs like the Adams County Pour Tour become successful. In 2018, Destination Gettysburg expanded the Hospitality Heroes program to include a monthly newsletter and regular familiarization events. These monthly outings provide the opportunity for frontline workers in our community to experience attractions, restaurants and more firsthand so they can help visitors find new experiences, discover amazing food options and truly immerse themselves in our community. The program, managed by the Destination Gettysburg Membership Department, is open to all frontline employees in Adams County who interact with visitors – that means anyone from a server to a housekeeper, a front desk employee to convenience store clerk. The 2019 program is already in progress with an upcoming event in March. Anyone interested in learning more should email Erin Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Growth has been part of life at Destination Gettysburg. The industry has grown, the demand and revenue has grown, and very slowly, the staff of the organization has grown. It took thirteen years, but we managed to outgrow our home on Middle Street. We knew it was coming, we could feel it happening. We converted meeting rooms into shared offices one too many times and there was just no more room. It was time to move and like everything done at Destination Gettysburg, a group was pulled together to research the options. Of course, preference was to be in the town of Gettysburg. If a place was available, it typically didn’t have the parking needed. If it had parking, it lacked in adequate internal space or needed so much work it was not a good investment. In late summer, the news had hit the streets, we had bought the old WGTY building behind the Gettysburg Times.
By November, we were in the new building, complete with new training conference space. The idea behind our move was to prepare Destination Gettysburg for the next 20 years. That included ensuring we had space for offering educational sessions to our membership. We also wanted to be sure we had room to grow staff in the future. We were happy to take an existing building and with little renovation have a state-of-the-art facility for today and tomorrow.
Destination Gettysburg is always looking at tomorrow, it is part of what we do. Just as we sit today, on a snowy day in winter looking out to spring and the student travel expected, then to summer when families, couples and friends fill our battlefield, towns, and countryside. The team is already focused on what our messaging will be, how we will use our social media to gather amazing content from travelers to share with others, and which experiences will interest the meeting planners and tour operators for fall and holidays. We look to inspire – our travelers, our businesses, and our community – to enjoy all that Adams County has to offer and to offer the best in hospitality.
2019 is shaping up to be the year of conventions. Several, like the Battlefield Tattoo Expo and Greyhounds of Gettysburg, are annual gatherings. For others, such as the American Association of Community Theatre Festival, 2019 is the first time, or first time in awhile, that some of these conventions will be in Gettysburg.
Some of major groups include:
Destination Gettysburg's sales department has been working diligently with many of these groups for years providing free services such as consultations to determine what facilities/attractions meet the group's needs, recommendations and assistance planning tours and activities, site visits, proposal requests, vendor referrals and marketing and promotions. A popular service Destination Gettysburg offers to groups are Attendee Welcome Bags that include a travel planner, local transportation information, area map and discounts to local member businesses which are delivered to the venue.
These are big conventions that will have an impact on our member businesses. Shops, restaurants, attractions and accommodations need to be prepared to handle the amount of people that will be in town for the conventions throughout the year.
In Spring 2018, Destination Gettysburg became aware of changes proposed to the fee structure paid by our local businesses who hold a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) for the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP). At that time, the Park was planning to implement a fee structure, beginning January 1, 2019, that would raise annual rates for these businesses who provide tours of the battlefield - on horseback, Segways, carriages, bicycles, etc. - from a $250 fee every two years to an annual application fee of $300 plus 3-5 percent of gross revenue. Percentages would be dependent on the amount of annual park-based revenue. We immediately reached out to our partners to determine what we could do to help them form a collective voice regarding what was sure to be damaging changes - for some it would be a 30,000 percent increase.
Over the course of the next several months, Destination Gettysburg met with these businesses to determine a more reasonable rate structure and roll out date. After meeting with local Park staff, we all agreed that the Park should receive more than the current collections, but not to the level that would be collected at the maximum allowable, which was the proposal. The group proposed a reduced structure of 1-1.6 percent of gross revenue.
GNMP followed up with the group with their updated decision. They would allow the 1-1.6 percent starting in October 2019, but that would only be in year one. By year three, they would be requiring the full 3-5 percent. Our local businesses currently provide a service to our visitors that the National Park cannot provide. These businesses assist the park rangers in sharing an accurate description of what happened on our hallowed grounds. If these rates come to fruition, we may not have these amazing experiences to offer our visitors.
The Gettysburg Times recently reported on this issue. The article, "Negative impact expected from NPS fee hike," discusses this issue and a secondary issue that will also impact our tourism industry.
In addition to raising rates on our local CUA holders, the National Park Service will roll out on October 1, 2019, a new fee structure for businesses bringing motor coach tours to any National Park site. Each operator will be required to pay a $300 annual application fee per park and $5/person for each visitor on their coach. This means our once free Park experience will require a fee for anyone traveling by motor coach - a segment that drives approximately 15,000 motor coaches annually to our destination. The same segment that helps fill our accommodations, restaurants, tours and attractions, and more.
We are asking our partners to help us share the word that these fees cannot become reality. Here are ways that you can help:
A few weeks ago, we shared with you changes to the Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) program at the National Parks, specifically the impact at the Gettysburg National Military Park (GNMP) on our local tour providers. Based on the need for better funding of the National Park, the Park Service is requiring parks to implement new fee structures, in some cases, raising the price to do business on the GNMP by up to 30,000 percent when the structure is fully phased in. This is not the only change at the federal level to the CUA program.
Another proposed change will greatly impact group tours visiting GNMP. Effective October 1, 2019, tour operators selling tours and experiences that include a national park will be required to pay an annual CUA application fee of $300 and an additional $5/person for each guest they bring to the site. That will take a motor coach tour of the Gettysburg National Military Park from $150 - the current fee for the Licensed Battlefield Guide - to $650 for a motor coach of 40 visitors (one group visit per year). This will cause an economic burden and result in a possible decrease in group visitation.
There are several possible scenarios :
Destination Gettysburg has been communicating with the American Bus Association and the National Tour Association, following the lead of these industry organizations who have the pulse of the motor coach industry. At this time, we continue to research the subject and stay up to date on any progress made. However, much like at the local level, without a permanent Director of the National Park or Secretary of the Interior, very little is able to be done.
It is important that each of these departments and our local park understand that this change will have dire effects on our economy and must not become official in October. Please use this list to send letters of support of tourism and our stance that this CUA change should not be implemented. Please use this sample letter to share why this will negatively impact your business.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. We will continue to keep you up to date on this issue and how you can assist.
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