A $3 billion-a-year industry powered by 25 million annual visitors.
That’s not enough for Carl Wilgus, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. Not when the Poconos’ travel and tourism industry is in a major development spurt.
That’s why Wilgus has set a goal to see that 25 million figure jump by 10 percent to 15 percent over the next five years.
He seeks more visitors to help make what is more than a half-billion dollars in construction and development projects that are underway become a success.
Wisconsin-based Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, for example, is building a $350 million resort and convention center at Pocono Manor in Tobyhanna Township.
Camelback Mountain Resort in Tannersville is undergoing a $163 million expansion that includes a massive indoor water park and hotel.
And Blue Mountain Ski Area and Resort in Palmerton is building a water park and hotel that could cost more than $25 million.
In his quest for more, the man in charge of the official tourist promotion and marketing organization for the counties of Carbon, Monroe, Pike and Wayne knows he has an advantage.
“Location. Location. Location,” said Wilgus, who has led PMVB since 2007.
The nation’s No. 1 market (New York) is just to the east of the Poconos, while the No. 4 market (Philadelphia) is just to the south. That’s a lot of potential visitors.
And as one of the most influential people in the world of business in the Greater Lehigh Valley, it’s Wilgus’ job to entice those folks to visit the Poconos. To create “an awareness of the Poconos Mountains as a leisure travel destination,” he said.
“We focus on the visitor. ...,” said Wilgus, a native of Washington state. “If we take care of the visitor ... we feel in total that everything else will fall into place.”
There are challenges, of course. Competition for the tourist dollar from nearby destinations. The economy. And in the past six years, the Pennsylvania government eliminated grants for tourist promotion agencies.
Wilgus, though, has been through it all before, having spent 20 years as director of tourism for Idaho. He was named state tourism director of the year in 2005, a national award, and also spent 13 years working in the ski resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho.
Wilgus and his PMVB staff – representing 500 member businesses – will be on the front line, trying to make it happen. And so will the people who man the 36,000 full-time equivalent positions that are driven by tourism in the Poconos – far and away the No. 1 industry in the four-county region.
“We’re pro growth, pro development,” Wilgus said. “We think our future is very strong.”