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Carlisle Events sees a return to record-breaking show car numbers after the pandemic

Attendees of the 2021 Carlisle Ford Nationals enjoy a day at the Carlisle Fairgrounds. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Over 3,200 registered show cars arrived at the Carlisle fairgrounds this month for the annual Carlisle Ford Nationals, an all-Ford vehicle show running from June 3 to June 5.

This year’s Ford Nationals marked the largest number of cars at any event hosted by Carlisle Events in its 47 years in operation.

Attendees at the 2021 Carlisle Ford Nationals all-Ford vehicle show inspect a new 2021 Ford Bronco at Carlisle Fair Grounds on June 3. PHOTO/IOANNIS PASHAKIS

The Ford event hit that number despite a lack of Canadian guests, which have accounted for a significant amount of attendees and registered car owners in previous years, said Michael Garland, public relations manager for Carlisle Events.

This year seems to mark a return to form for the auto show events management company, which has a packed summer of events planned, many of which are also expected to break records. Carlisle Events’ positive outlook for 2021 comes after a 2020 that saw the company cancel two auctions and shift its early summer events to later in the year.

While it did see fewer registered vehicles and attendees in 2020, the company’s events continued to account for some of Cumberland County’s largest tourism assets. In 2020, they proved invaluable for the region’s economy, according to Jamie Keener, CEO of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp.

“We receive the hotel tax to support the organization,” Keener said. “We recognized a decline when Carlisle Events activities weren’t happening. When those events came back, we did see a comeback in the hotel tax revenue and therefore in our ability to market and help the region.”

Unlike most venues last year, Carlisle Events was able to host all of its car shows at its 82-acre property during the COVID-19 pandemic.  That did not always seem like it would be the case, since COVID-19 restrictions early on limited large gatherings to a 250.

In anticipation of the events company’s car shows, which draw about 100,000 people to the fairgrounds each year, the state Department of Health sued the company last June claiming continuing with the year’s event schedule would violate the 250-person limit. But the suit was settled amicably before any events were cancelled.

Still, the pandemic continued to have an impact on the company, which hosts its largest shows between June and August, with shows like Carlisle Ford Nationals being delayed until August.

“By the time we got to our fall show at the end of the year and really completed our season, the turtle’s pace we had in June had gone from a jog to a sprint,” said Garland.

Last year’s shows were less attended than in 2019. However, Carlisle Events was able to bring in a swathe of first timers to the shows since many folks were uncomfortable traveling far in the midst of COVID.

“Last year, being an outdoor venue was one of our greatest strengths you could have and we leveraged that,” said Harold Brandt, CFO at Carlisle Events.

Carlisle Events’ car shows are a major part of Cumberland County’s tourism, with the county’s other assets, such as its restaurants, downtown offerings and outdoors activities, acting as options for Carlisle Events attendees or reasons for them to return to the area, said Keener.

“Their events really represent the major tourism asset we have in Cumberland County,” he said. “They contribute the most hotel room nights. When you look at all of the combined events, not just in Carlisle but all of the county’s hotels are impacted.”

Ioannis Pashakis
Ioannis Pashakis is the Central Penn Business Journal's assistant editor. Email him at [email protected].

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