A survey about American tourism and its impact on the economy and the community reflects local findings, according to the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau executive director Matt Price.
The survey, from Longwoods International, focused specifically on feelings of tourism in the U.S., and while the overall majority of Americans support the tourism industry on a state and local level, there’s concern when it comes to tourism growth when it involves more visitors in one’s own destination.
Price explained the sentiment is similar to the findings of the survey locally.
“If you consider the things on our agenda as far as development, you have the 9/11 National Memorial Trail, and in the proposed area of the trail, some of it is expected to go through private land, and in some cases, we’ll have to get easements,” he said. “There are also other proposed developments, like the Hawn’s Bridge Recreation Area, and those are all subject to concerns.”
Price said as far as those major developments, how to deal with people’s concerns on those issues depends on the development itself.
“With the trail, that will have to be dealt with on an individual basis, especially property for trail easement and things like that,” he said. “If someone didn’t want it, the trail would have to be rerouted so it doesn’t interfere with property, but there may be a way to work with property owners to make sure concerns are alleviated to make sure the trail can pass through.
“As far as the proposed Hawn’s Bridge Recreation Area, there has been a vocal outpouring against it, but there’s also been a lot of support for the project that hasn’t been as vocal,” he said. “But, we’re all waiting for the release of the master plan (of Raystown Lake) for the release of the land use classification of the area of Raystown Lake.”
Price said around $173 million in revenue is brought to the area as a result of tourism each year, and the area wouldn’t have some of the amenities without the visitor population each year.
“Places like Hoss’s Steak and Sea House and Woody’s BBQ, two restaurants that are franchises, wouldn’t be here without our visitor spending and population,” he said.
On the state level, tourism is the second highest industry in Huntingdon County; however, forest products aren’t considered part of metrics when measuring the economic impact of tourism on a federal level.
“If you look at the U.S. census, which doesn’t include forest products as part of agriculture, there’s more revenue generated by tourism than agriculture, but the state does include forest products, so we’re the second highest. It depends on what metrics you look at,” said Price.
Price said the support for tourism is noted in county government through a hotel tax, which went from 3% levy to 5% in 2017, and he’s hopeful the state government will get on board with bringing more money toward tourism.
“With Act 109 of 2018, there’s now a dedicated fund that’s been established with the closing of a loophole that allows online travel agencies, like Orbitz and Airbnb to collect and remit a local hotel tax, closing that loophole for the state,” said Price. “They can use that new revenue for the tourism promotion fund at the state level.”
Funding for tourism at the state level has been mostly flat for the past seven years, said Price, and other states outspend Pennsylvania when it comes to tourism promotion.
“To be competitive with states surrounding us and states we compete directly with, like Michigan, for example, we need to be funded (at the state level), at around $35-$36 million per year,” he said. “Closing the loophole with online agents doesn’t quite get us there, but it does get us closer than we have been for the last seven years.”