Gettysburg 150 led to Gettysburg millions
Attracting visitors in 2014 is the trick, since “Gettysburg 151” doesn't have the same kind of ring.
But as for 2013, when the borough and the surrounding area celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's bloody, pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, the local tourist business boomed. Visitor spending is expected to be up almost one quarter for the sesquicentennial year compared to an average year.
Officials at the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau said visitor spending is estimated to be $750 million in the area's businesses this year, compared with $605 million in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
About 13 percent of that spending — approximately $100 million, according to the bureau — happened during a 10-day span in late June and early July when the town held its major battle re-enactment commemorations.
"We saw dramatic increases from last year, though last year was a little slow," said Max Felty, president of Gettysburg Tour Center, whose business is expected to be up about 30 percent in 2013. "It was certainly a very good year for us, especially that period in June and July."
This year was Gettysburg's chance to show off — and cash in — as the events from June 28 to July 7 brought in about 235,000 visitors, which Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the visitors bureau, said was in line with the bureau's predictions.
Hans Schreiber, director of sales and marketing for the Gateway Gettysburg hotel group, which includes the Wyndham Gettysburg and Courtyard Gettysburg, said the first six months of the year were slower than expected.
But once the 10-day event started, the hotel was flush with guests and likely will finish about 12 percent above its sales figures for last year, Schreiber said. That was about the amount it budgeted.
"We were hoping for a little more (than the 12 percent budgeted), but at the end of the day, we're going to be pretty close to our expectation," Schreiber said. "The normal increase is about 2 or 3 or maybe 4 percent growth, so to get more than double that, we're not going to complain."
Felty said some of the extra money made this year will go toward capital improvements at Gettysburg Tours and some of the company's other attractions. That includes new equipment for the battleground tours and renovations of the gift shop with new flooring, fixtures and lighting.
The 16-day federal government shutdown closed the battlefield while government employees weren't working, which hurt some businesses. The Gettysburg National Military Park is run and staffed by the National Park Service.
Gettysburg Tour Center runs a tour bus to the Eisenhower National Historic Site, which was closed for those 16 days. That meant about 2,000 people who would have been paying customers weren't on the bus, Felty said.
At the Wyndham, Schreiber said, the shutdown caused 10 groups to cancel what would have taken up more than 300 hotel nights.
"Those first two weekends of October are high-demand weekends. They're always sold out," he said about the hotels that opened in 2006. "Neither sold out this year, because people couldn't go out on the battlefield."
For some of the town's souvenir and novelty shops, the shutdown actually helped business.
"People had come here on vacation, they didn't or couldn't cancel, they couldn't walk around the battlefield, so they came to the shops downtown," said Al Wilde, who runs the Blue & Gray Gift Shop on Baltimore Street. "A lot of times they might have said, 'Well, let's just go the Smithsonian (in Washington, D.C., a little over an hour away),' but that was closed, too. So I think they just stayed here."
Now the question becomes how to get those visitors who came to Gettysburg for the first time this year to come back.
Felty said he believes the visitors bureau did a "very good job" of attracting media attention to the area leading up to the summer celebration, with the hopes the effort will continue into 2014 and beyond.
Schreiber said his staff went all-out for customer service during the summer, wanting to give people the best experience possible.
"Some of it is going to carry over," Schreiber said. "We're already seeing some nice increases in our business for next year. The people who came this year, we wanted them to feel warm and welcome beyond just the battlefield and know what the area has to offer."