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Cumberland leads area in tourism upswing

Report: Occupancy, revenue, room sales increase regionally

By - Last modified: September 24, 2012 at 2:15 PM

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The summer initially looks like it was good to the hotel industry in Cumberland County — and the rest of Central Pennsylvania — with industry reports showing occupancy, revenue and rooms sales all increasing significantly over 2011 numbers.

The increased business at area lodging businesses translated to a 12.6 percent increase in hotel occupancy tax revenue for Cumberland County, according to numbers from the county treasurer's office. The county collected $778,108 from the hotel tax from January to June, according to the numbers. Cumberland County's hotel tax is 3 percent of room sales.

The increases are harbingers of a slowly improving economy and could mean more money for economic development and tourism promotion in Cumberland County, officials said.

"More people are traveling, and many of them are business travelers," said Shireen Farr, tourism director for the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau.

The improving economy, a mild winter and gas prices that remained mostly stable for the summer — even if relatively high — helped promote travel, she said. Increased demand also means lodging businesses are receiving better rates per room.

Some of that can be seen in statistics from Nashville-based Smith Travel Research Inc. Its monthly report on lodging activity in the midstate shows increases for occupancy rates, room sales and per-room prices in Cumberland County as well as elsewhere around the region.

STR's July report showed a 6.9 percent increase in occupancy rates, an 8.7 percent increase in room sales, a 9.8 percent increase in revenue per available rooms and an 11.7 percent increase in room revenue. The average daily rate for a room rose 2.8 percent to $81.10.

All numbers are year-to-date and reflect surveys completed by lodging businesses that chose to participate. In Pennsylvania, that was about 943 businesses, according to the report.

Lodging metrics also increased in Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties, according to the STR report. However, Cumberland County led nearly every category and was the only county where double-digit increases were reported on a year-to-date basis.

Alan Duxbury, chief financial officer for Carlisle House Bed & Breakfast, said the statistics reflect what he's seeing there, too. He and wife Mary Faller Duxbury own Carlisle House.

The bed & breakfast's best year was 2008, he said. The recession hurt business in 2009 and 2010, but it was an opportunity to improve their facilities. Last year, business improved. So far, business is up about 9 percent from last year, and 2012 is on track to be better than 2008, he said.

"The simple answer is, yes, (business is) up," Duxbury said.

The increases are good news for tourism promotion and economic development initiatives, said Jonathan Bowser, economic development director for the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp.

The gains are likely due to increased business traffic into the county, considering about a third of all travel to Cumberland is generated for business reasons, he said.

The number of large corporations based in the county help boost business travel numbers, he said. Rite Aid Corp., Harsco Corp., Ahold USA and the newly expanded Volvo Construction Equipment factory near Shippensburg all generate business travel.

"If you're seeing that number up, you're actually seeing an indicator of a general increase in business activity," county Commissioner Gary Eichelberger said.

The visitors bureau's promotional activities also have helped by creating a greater awareness of Cumberland County and all the region has to offer from both a business and a recreational view, he said.

Commercial air travel at Harrisburg International Airport is up slightly from 2011, with year-to-date total passenger counts reaching 772,994 as of July, or a 3.2 percent increase from the same time last year, according to the airport. With departing passengers increasing just 0.7 percent in that time period, it's looking like more people are coming to the midstate.

Capital City Airport — which is owned by HIA operator Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority — just across the border in Fairview Township, York County, is reporting significant increases in its operations.

Most notable is the nearly 75 percent increase in air taxi flights, which shuttle people from Capital City to other airports and destinations, according to SARAA statistics. General aviation flights also grew by 14 percent.

Earlier in the year, Capital City's general manager said there was growing evidence that businesspeople were flying again to smaller airports. Capital City is managed by fixed base operator CXY Aviation.

At this point, what happens with the remainder of the year is anyone's guess, Farr said. Numbers could dip with the temperature, or they could remain on track.

Duxbury said he tries not to expect too much, but he's optimistic for the future.

"In Carlisle, just about everyone is pulling together with the same thing in mind," he said, "and that's promoting business and the area. I don't think any of us can do it by ourselves."

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and logistics. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jimr@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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