Time off for some means business opportunity for others

Leisure time for some generates millions of dollars for area businesses, according to tourism reports for the Crossroads region.

Tourism leaders say that’s because of the area’s mix of historic sites, parks and activities.

“History is our hook, but recreation is what people do,” said Janet Pollard, executive director of the Franklin County (Pa.) Visitors Bureau.

That sentiment also was expressed, in one way or another, by several other tourism leaders throughout the Crossroads area.

They said they market their communities’ ties to history — such as Civil War sites — as well as state and national parks and activities that range from hiking and fishing to shopping or golfing. They promote minor-league baseball, local theater and opportunities for agritourism, from wineries and breweries to orchards and working farms.

“A lot of it is about assets,” said Annette Gavin-Bates, chief executive officer of the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jefferson County’s tourism assets range from the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, and from Shepherd University to the scenic Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

Gavin-Bates said the tourism sector thrives when the benefits are realized by all the stakeholders — from business owners who benefit to residents who might be inconvenienced by a weekend crowd.

“It’s a little bit of a tap dance,” she said.

‘Heritage travel’

There are sub-sectors within the tourism industry. Officials said people traveling for business purposes, for example, are different than families out on a leisurely vacation. And honeymooners are different that the traveling sports team. They spend their time, and their money, in different ways.

For example, John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, Md., said this area’s rich history attracts a higher-than-average number of “heritage” tourists. Those people, as Pollard noted, seek out historic sites and mix other pursuits into their visit.

“It is the history that draws the people here, particularly the Civil War history,” he said.

Studies show that a heritage tourist spends 1.5 times what an average U.S. traveler spends on vacation, Fieseler reported.

“That’s why everyone loves heritage travel,” he said.

Frederick and Washington County, Md., also have had success in attracting youth sports events. In July, for example, Washington County will host the 2018 USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships.

In previous news articles, Dan Spedden, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his organization actively sought the business. The bid to host the championships came through the Maryland Sports Commission, an entity that markets Maryland communities all over the country. USA Cycling selected Washington County over larger communities throughout the country.

Spedden has estimated that the event will bring $1.5 million into the community that week.

Where to stay

Hotel rooms and meeting spaces are critical parts of a community’s tourism assets, Spedden said. And several projects are in the works to increase those assets. To list just four:

• In Frederick, Md., planning continues for a long-discussed downtown hotel and convention center. Envisioned as a public/private partnership, Plamondon Hospitality Partners will build a full-service hotel with about 199 rooms and 22,000 square feet of meeting space.

• In Hagerstown, Md., the Bowman Group is planning a new Home2 Suites hotel with 105 apartment-style guest rooms.

• In Harpers Ferry, W.Va., plans are in the works to rebuild the historic Hilltop House Hotel property. The concept plan calls for a 122-room hotel with upscale amenities.

• In Chambersburg, Pa., construction continues on a new, 88-room SpringHill Suites hotel.

Access to hotel rooms and other facilities shapes how tourism leaders can market their communities.

Mark Jordan, director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his agency takes a strategic approach with that in mind.

“We don’t have a large facility for big meetings,” he said. “The most we can hold is about 300 people in any one location.”

Like other communities in the area, the county markets its historic and recreational assets. One of the latter has a modern twist, Jordan said.

For some reason, the county has earned a reputation on social media as one of the top places for geocaching. In geocaching, a person uses a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device to hide and seek containers.

“We get a lot of people that way,” Jordan said. “They have been here from around the world.”

‘Quality of life’

One reason people come to the area is because of the easy access to places like Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Area tourism leaders report that they turn the tables a bit, marketing the area as a convenient and relaxing getaway for people who live in those urban areas.

Pollard, the tourism leader in Franklin County, said part of promoting tourism is getting residents to understand “the uniqueness of what they have,” from historic sites to hiking trails to festivals and performances.

“It has a strong economic impact,” she said of tourism, “but it also is a positive contributor giving your community a sense of value, a sense of pride. … We are your quality of life.”