Demand for Lancaster County hotel rooms set a first-quarter record this year, as visitors flocked to the Garden Spot.
The county is a hot destination these days with its smaller urban areas, access to open spaces and wide variety of attractions.
Ed Harris, CEO of Discover Lancaster, said hotel room demand is up 33% from the first three months of 2021.
“Typically, the first quarter is the softest for hotels in Lancaster County,” so this number has hoteliers optimistic about the rest of the year, he said.
2022 “is setting up to be a flagship year,” Harris said.
With high demand the catalyst, hotel room revenue totaled $40.7 million in the first quarter, significantly more than the $24.9 million from a year ago. “Hotels feel really good about that,” he said.
Sight & Sound Theatres’ “David” is a major draw bringing visitors to Lancaster County. When that venue debuts a new show, Harris said, that typically creates a positive ripple effect in the local economy.
One persistent negative is a workforce shortage in the hospitality sector, he said. Becoming fully staffed is a challenge.
But Harris said there are signs that the situation might be improving.
During the worst of COVID-19, Lancaster County became a popular retreat. Its geographic proximity to big cities on the East Coast makes it a drivable destination, he said.
A broad range of lodging is available, including unique places like the Cartoon Network Hotel, with price points to match nearly any budget, Harris said.
The perception is that it’s more affordable than metro areas and beach towns. “Your dollar goes a little further,” he said.
The Lancaster County Commissioners and Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development also gave Discover Lancaster more than $3 million during the pandemic to use toward marketing and advertising, which was a tremendous help, Harris said.
The county rebounded a little faster than many other areas, he said, with momentum picking up in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Then, in February and March, with all this pent-up demand, “things really started to take off,” Harris said.
“At the end of the day, people want to travel somewhere.”
‘Great destinations don’t have to be Disney’
For the trailing 12-month period ending April 20, the Lancaster submarket was at 98.5% revenue per available room, or RevPAR, compared with the 2019 pre-pandemic baseline, according to data from Kalibri Labs.
David Aungst, president of High Hotels Ltd., which owns and operates 14 hotels, seven of which are in central Pennsylvania, said one reason the county’s hotel industry has bounced back is the COVID-weary public’s yearning for open spaces and small towns. “Clearly, Lancaster has it in spades,” he said.
Like Harris, Aungst emphasized Lancaster County’s location. “It’s a very, very drivable market, an easy place to get in and out of.”
He, too, spoke about the range of hotel offerings, from upper upscale to economy. “The leisure traveler is really flooding into reasonably priced hotels,” Aungst said.
The market came out of the gate in the first quarter very strong, he said.
York is in good shape, too, with 103% revenue per available room compared with 2019. Aungst said York has a lot of wedding venues and is “doing a good job on economic development.”
The Harrisburg submarket and its government-dependent hotels, however, are taking longer to recover, with a RevPAR of 90% compared with the pre-pandemic baseline.
Overall, the hotel sector has revived quicker than many expected, said Aungst, noting that those in the hotel industry see a direct link from hospitality to economic development.
“There is a deep desire among people to spend time with other people and go out and have experiences,” he said.
“The great thing about central Pennsylvania is we have all these things to offer,” Aungst said. “Great destinations don’t have be Disney.”