Internet marketing keeps hotels busy

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Although travel throughout the United States has decreased since Sept.11, Central Pennsylvania hotels are doing relatively well. According to Phil Guarno, general manager of the Harrisburg-Hershey Marriott, business did decrease, but it only lasted a couple weeks.
And some area hotel managers said that the Web, generally, is helping them draw business.
“I think we’re fortunate to be in Central Pennsylvania that’s mostly a drive-in location and is not as affected by the decrease in travel nationwide,” Guarno said. “Many people restructured their vacation plans after Sept. 11.”
The change in previous plans turned out to be a plus for many Central Pennsylvania locations, including Guarno’s Marriott, the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center, and the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in Carlisle. All reported an increase in room rentals. Guarno attributes this to the location.
“Besides it being the state capital, [Harrisburg’s] got a very strong tourism industry,” he said, adding that the hotel’s proximity to the Hershey attractions helps business.
According to a state study of tourism, there were more than 530,000 jobs generated by tourism in 1999, the most recent year for which information was available.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development recently initiated a program named “Rediscover Pennsylvania,” designed to stimulate tourism in the state. It began in November. The program highlights discounts and travel packages throughout the state from hotels, attractions and shopping centers, and can be found on the Internet at www.experiencepa.com.
In addition to providing travel information and special prices for users, the Internet has become another source of business for Pennsylvania hotels, many of which have reservation abilities on their Web sites.
The Marriott’s site (www.marriott.com) allows guests to search for hotels and book rooms through a central reservation system.
The Lancaster Host Resort also receives online reservations and has tracked business to its site (www.lancasterhost.com). The Host Resort’s regional director of sales and marketing, Kevin Bergman, says that Web users have definitely increased in the past few years.
“At first, the Web site was mainly used by people to check out the place,” he said. “Not so much for reservations. No one trusted the Web to secure their reservations.”
However, with the changing times and increase in Internet users, Bergman says that the lack of trust with e-commerce is no longer as prevalent.
“People now feel safer about reserving online.”
With a new travel-incentive program throughout the state and a boost in hotel business generated from the World Wide Web, feelings are optimistic for the tourism and hotel industry in the coming year, especially from Marriott’s Guarno.
“Central Pennsylvania, in general, is doing well. As the Marriott Corp., we’re proud to be a part of it.”

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