While the Poconos is now a year-round destination with ski resorts making room for waterparks and zip line courses in fairer weather, the fall foliage season – which is now getting underway – always will be one of the most popular draws to the region.
No matter a person’s interest, wining, dining or outdoor adventuring, the fall colors make a beautiful backdrop and give tourists that extra bump they need to make the trip.
So, now is precisely the time to make the pitch to the bounty of tourists that the Poconos is worth coming back to again and again.
And that job falls to Christopher Barrett, Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau president and CEO. The busy season comes just around the six-month anniversary on the job for the new leader of the Stroudsburg-based bureau.
Enthused with what he has learned about the region in those six months, Barrett wants to take his newly expanded appreciation for the destination and spread it out to all potential visitors.
He wants to use the region’s already diverse offerings of events, attractions and activities to spur more and longer stays – giving day trip and weekend visitors a reason to come back, perhaps even during the week.
“One thing I thought I knew, but didn’t really completely appreciate is the vastness of the [Poconos]. …. How big it is, the amount of products we have and the beauty of the landscape,” said Barrett, who represents the tourism industry in the four-county Pocono area of Monroe, Carbon, Pike and Wayne counties. “I know it’s a cliché that every destination says, but we really do have something for everyone.”
LANDING ON TOP
Barrett, who most recently worked for Target Media in Harrisburg, arrived on the job at the perfect time.
Much of the growth occurring in the region already was well underway. Member resorts and attractions already were putting out products to lure tourists, and visitor numbers were up.
“Much of that may be the function of the economy,” said Barrett, who follows longtime president and CEO Carl Wilgus, who retired.
“The economy is a little bit better; people are willing to spend a little more right now.”
But it’s more than the economy. Barrett said during all the years of ups and downs to the tourism trade in the region, the Poconos has shown an amazing tenacity to survive as a destination.
“Pocono business owners are always reinventing the Poconos and making it survive even when it looked like it wouldn’t survive,” he said.
They’ve gone from a ski area to a romance destination to a place for family fun.
And now, Barrett said, with the something-for-everyone, family fun nature of the region, the key push is to use distinctive events and experiences to give people a reason to visit.
Events are a big draw, Barrett said. While events have always been a draw to the Poconos, they’re becoming increasingly popular tools to give tourists a reason to visit resorts.
From Octoberfest celebrations to harvest festivals, Halloween monster bashes and haunted houses, the fall event calendar in the Poconos is packed with experiences that draw tourists, Barrett said.
Year-round, visitors also will find food events such as wine, beer and spirit festivals or events themed around cheese, garlic or bacon at many of the resorts.
Even towns are getting into festivals and fairs to attract people to their business districts.
“Jim Thorpe has been a real leader in this with fall foliage festivals, but all the towns are starting to host things,” Barrett said.
Downtown streets from Stroudsburg to Honesdale spend many weekends lined with crafters, vendors and musicians for events this fall. They attract people who are out to see the rural foliage into the cities and villages to spend those important tourist dollars.
“Everybody’s getting really creative right now,” Barrett said. “That’s what’s expanding our seasons.”
Those events complement the added draw of major new Pocono resorts such as Kalahari, a $350 million waterpark/hotel destination near Mount Pocono and the renovated and expanded Camelback Mountain Resort in Tannersville. Camelback recently spent $163 million to add Camelback Lodge & Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark to its offerings.
TECH EXPANDS REACH
One advantage the modern Poconos has over its previous incarnations as a tourism destination is the technological tools available to promote what’s going on.
The agency is active on social media networks putting out the call for upcoming happenings in the region. The visitors bureau also maintains a regularly updated website at www.poconomountains.com which keeps potential visitors up-to-date on the latest events, activities and weather.
For those looking to time their visit for the most robust fall colors, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry provides the visitors bureau website with a weekly map of where peak colors are occurring in the region.
Being able to provide accurate and up-to-date information on events, weather and nature’s beauty is important in a region that is still largely dependent on last-minute travel.
“Reservations are always coming in at the last minute for the weekends,” Barrett said.
The next hurdle to tackle is increasing midweek stays and extended stays, Barrett said.
He said to do that he wants to bolster the already strong cooperation between resorts, hotels, destinations and other businesses that call the Poconos home.
“Our members are trying to set up ways to communicate and share information in a noncompetitive way so we’re all rowing in the same direction,” Barrett said.
He said by cross promotion, a visitor may come for one event but then stay for another attraction and visit local businesses on the way, spreading the impact of that one visit among several venues.
Barrett said once they’ve enticed a visitor to the Poconos, the next task is to educate him or her on just how many things there are to do.
“We want them to visit again, not just for that experience, but maybe for another,” he said. “We need to make it easier of visitors to understand the vastness of the Poconos.”