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DelVal Hospitality Industry Hopes for Strong Summer Despite Fragile Economy

Two years after COVID-19 mitigation efforts ruined the hospitality industry’s busy summer travel season, a new concern is looming over the business: the state of the economy.

Inflation warnings sounded in April when a Bankrate survey said 70 percent of Americans were modifying their vacation plans due to rising prices. Since then, similar effects have been seen with the increase in gas prices, and airline bookings have begun to decline in response to higher fares.

Ben Fileccia, senior director of operations at the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the economic environment is forcing the industry to change summer performance projections.

“Early in the year, this summer was projected to be one of the strongest tourism seasons in our history,” he said. “Because of inflation and rising gas prices, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. We have no historical data because gas prices have never been this high before. We just don’t know.”

Of particular concern are travelers coming from outside the region. They may look at how far the Delaware Valley is, see the expense of going here, and opt not to come this year.

But Nina Kelly, director of marketing and communications at the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, thinks those closer to the region will choose it over other destinations.

She calls it a “displacement,” merely different people coming to the region, but no significant change in the overall number that does visit.

“There’s such a vast wealth of people near us, in a drivable market, that I think it shifts in who comes,” said Kelly.

Kelly added that gas prices don’t affect the industry as much as one might think.

But even with the high prices, the context of the last two years may be able to overcome the current hindrances to travel, according to Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.

“I think there’s still a lot of pent-up demand from being unable to travel the last two years,” he said. “I’m hoping they offset each other somewhat.”

Grose added that May was a strong month for the industry, especially with local universities having graduations and it is too early to tell if the concern about the economy will translate into actual negative consequences.

One local bed and breakfast has not seen anything to hint at a decline yet.

“We’re rocking,” said Lance Shortt, owner of the Inn at the Whitewing Farm in West Chester. “We’re still getting a decent amount of flights coming in, especially within the last couple of months. Everything is really par to last year or better.”

And even as those far away consider not traveling as far this year, those locally will too. Staycations may be an option, as they typically were during the pandemic as travel was limited.

Shortt said Whitewing already had a high concentration of staycation travelers, but that picked up during the pandemic and is still increasing today.

“We’re getting people from almost our hometown,” he said.

Fileccia said more people are staying local for travel, but they are also exploring other areas of the state they may not know.

“Going out to Lancaster, up to the Poconos,” he said. “Travelling to some of our great destinations in Pennsylvania.”

While Whitewing’s tranquil and outdoorsy appeal is key to bringing in new and returning customers, Shortt added that local attractions like the Brandywine River Museum, Mt. Cuba, and the area’s vineyards keep people coming back.

Kelly said Longwood Garden’s recently announced light exhibit by Bruce Munro, which lasts until October, is a massive boon for the area tourist industry.

“You’re seeing one of the world’s great gardens as well as a renowned art exhibition,” she said. “So that drives business like nothing else.”

In the city, The Franklin Institute’s Harry Potter exhibition is drawing vacationers, Grose said. The FIFA World Cup host announcement for Philadelphia is also helping, which is why he has an upbeat outlook on the local industry for now.

“There are a lot of positives right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement to travel again.”

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Need a Little Christmas? Visit Bucks County’s New Hope

All aboard! If you’re heading for New Hope–named one of the country’s best towns for Christmas–you’re in for a treat.

According to MyDatingAdviser.com, New Hope ranks as the fifth-best out of 152 Christmas towns in the nation. The ranking was measured based upon dining, festive activities, hotels, transport, weather, among other indicators of an enjoyable holiday experience.

One of the most famous attractions that bring many locals and visitors to Bucks County is the Santa’s Steam Train Ride on the New Hope Railroad. The hour-long round-trip from New Hope to Lahaska welcomes people of all ages to experience the scenic countryside of Bucks County.

Christmas in New Hope
by Anthony Sinagoga Courtesy of Visit Bucks County

Once passengers are comfortably settled in the railcars,  roaming musicians play Christmas carols while hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies are served. Children and adults are welcome to wear pajamas on the train setting up a familiar atmosphere toward the famous Christmas film The Polar Express. The attraction will begin running on Friday, Nov. 26.

Visitors can also stroll through the decorated railroad station and visit the 1891 Freight House Gift Shop and Christmas Gift Shop located within the historic Victorian-style passenger station.

With the pandemic waning, Paul Bencivengo, president of Visit Bucks County, is optimistic for the 2021 holiday season.

“Visit Bucks County heavily promotes region with the ‘Holidays in Bucks County’ marketing campaign with outdoor billboards, a television commercial, digital advertising, and more,” Bencivengo said. “The holidays are a very festive season in Bucks County, and it’s a great time to visit.”

Peddler’s Village
Kevin Crawford Imagery

“We encourage locals and visitors to purchase gift cards to attractions, museums, restaurants, hotels, and bed and breakfasts — a getaway experience is a perfect gift! These purchases support the local economy and help spread joy throughout the holiday season,” he said.

Bucks County officials hope to match the economic boom they saw in 2019, where the tourist industry generated a billion dollars in financial impact and supported a total hospitality workforce of 30,000.

Another popular attraction set to open for the holiday season in New Hope is Peddler’s Village. A holiday tradition since 1984, where the Gingerbread Competition and Display is one of the site’s top attractions and included its free admission.

 

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Historic Bethlehem Draws Visitors Seeking Something Special for the Holiday Season

If you’re looking for the iconic Pennsylvania Christmas town, Bethlehem is your destination. With that famous name and Pennsylvania German heritage, Bethlehem attracts visitors to the region from near and far.

One favorite attraction is the Holiday Putz Trail, a collection of displays at two historic sites open for Christmastime. As it pertains to the name of the trail, “Putz” is a traditional Moravian decoration used around the holiday season; the word comes from the German term “to decorate.” The small replicas depict various Nativity settings using embellished, hand-crafted figurines. Each set may include animals, buildings, and other detail-oriented features to recreate the scenes of the holiday

A main location on the Putz Trail is the Moravian Museum Gemeinhaus which introduces guests to the earliest history of the Bethlehem community. Guests discover the stories behind Bethlehem’s founders, including early Moravian, communal living, medical practices, missionary work, and a growing educational system.

The Moravain Museum of Bethlehem complex includes some of the most unique and oldest buildings in the Lehigh Valley. Due to its rich history and architecture, the Gemeinhaus has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is part of Historic Moravian Bethlehem’s National Historic Landmark.

Another significant site of the Putz Trail is the Single Sisters’ House which was constructed in 1744 parallel to the Gemeinhaus and was originally built for the Single Brethren’s Choir which was given to the Single Sisters’ Choir in 1748.

Visitors also experience other Moravian traditions and partake in new additions, including the Bethlehem by Night Motorcoach Tour, the Christmas Stroll Walking Tour, and the Live Advent Calendar. In addition, horsedrawn trolley rides will debut as a new feature this year. The Christmas in the Quarter will also be returning for two weekends after being added last year.

“To have festivities in Bethlehem is always great for the town especially during this time of the year,” Carlos Orellana, 23, of Bethlehem. “It’s neat to see the entire city get decorated and have Main Street attract many carolers.”

Wassail Party at the Kemerer

That Wassail Party at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts is one of the first events to kick of the Christmas season in Bethlehem. It provides festive Christmas music to get visitors in the holiday spirit including light refreshments offered at the family-friendly event. For safety purposes, visitors are asked to register ahead of time.

Visitors can also see the lighting of the Trees of Historic Bethlehem, a tradition featuring more than 26 trees on display across five historic sites. The decorated trees show ornaments carefully displayed by the Bethlehem Garden Club to exemplify this year’s chosen theme, “A Cinematic Christmas.”

The trees are located at the 1810 Goundie House, Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, Luckenbach Mill, Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, and the Single Sisters’ House. A multi-site pass can be purchased for $25, while a single-site pass costs $12, and $9 for children.

The holiday season hours of operation run till the beginning of January. For any questions about the Holiday Putz Trail or hours of operation, contact the Visitor Center at 1-800-360-TOUR or Historic Bethlehem.

 

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