Tourism is Economic Development


by: Carl Wilgus, President/CEO, Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau

If you haven’t read the Oxford Economics DMAI report entitled “Destination Promotion as an Economic Engine,” I strongly suggest you do. As the report states, destination promotion will continue to expand its role in the community on boarder economic development issues –- not just marketing to the end traveler.

Destination promotion can raise a communities profile opening the door to enhanced opportunities for traditional business relocation, expansion, and new start ups to occur. Destination promotion also can contribute substantially to highlighting the quality of life issues critical to the relocation decision as well as resident’s attitude about where they live.

Understanding the impact of destination promotion to economic development can have a very large impact on the increased importance and relevance of a DMO now and even more so moving into the future. For the nearly 30 years, I’ve been an executive in this industry I have heard and even expounded the comment that “Tourism is Economic Development,” but with little or no factual data to support this statement. Thankfully after all this time, we have the Oxford Economics report to substantiate that very claim.

All the way through the recession the discussion was about jobs, jobs, jobs. For the first time to my recollection is a research piece that speaks specifically to the impact successful tourism promotion and development can have on other areas of the local economy, and how it leads to job generation in other parts of the economy. Illustrating how a DMO can work with an Economic Development Organization to the benefit of everyone in a community is another valuable service of this report.

The Oxford Economics work has really hit home here in the Pocono Mountains. We are extremely fortunate that more than $500 million in new tourism product in our area is opening this summer in the form of two next hotel convention center and indoor water parks. Knowing now and being able to communicate the ripple effect it will have throughout the community is unbelievably beneficial. As a result we are initiating efforts at the Bureau to more actively interact with the Economic Development Organizations in our four counties as a way to create a better linkage between our two disciplines. They include:

1. Participation in an Economic Development Magazine created for our region by Journal Communications.

This is a five-year project with a new magazine produced each year distributed to economic development prospect and site relocation managers along the East Coast. An advertorial piece focused on highlighting the key assets of the area and addressing the advantage of relocating or starting a business in the Pocono Mountains. A quality of life section addresses the scenic, recreational, and lifestyle opportunities in our area and the value of the tourism industry in making this possible.

2. Working with two of our Economic Development Organizations through a hosted luncheon in February at the Eastern Outdoor Sports Show in Harrisburg, PA organized by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The second largest show of its kind in the nation attracting 1,300 exhibits and 500,000 attendees over ten days, this event attracts the “hook and bullet” crowd. Our Pocono Mountains luncheon program speaker was Justin Moon, President of Khar Arms, a gun manufacture who recently relocated his company from New York State to the Pocono Mountains. We invited numerous sporting goods manufactures to a sit down luncheon, fed them a great meal, provided each a gift and told the story of why the Pocono Mountains is a great place to do business. More than 40 people attended the event which in addition to our targeted companies included our state legislative delegation and several County Commissioner’s. We now plan on making this an annual event.

3. Coordinated marketing aligning of tourism with an economic development messages.

This summer in various high end hotels and resorts in the Pocono Mountains a new rack card will be available at either the front desk or in the in-room packets. Our tourism tag line is “Life’s Greater in the Pocono Mountains,” so this rack card will be titled “Business is Greater in the Pocono Mountains. The front side has bulleted talking points highlighting the reasons that you come for a vacation and what makes the Pocono Mountains so wonderful are also equally good reasons to start or relocate a business to this region. On the back of the card is contact information for the four agencies responsible for economic development. This is aimed as a low-cost lead generating opportunity aimed at leisure travelers in our area to think about the business potential as well.

4. Partnership with an academic institution.

We are working with the East Stroudsburg University and the Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corporation, in developing the program for our third annual Economic Outlook Summit which will be held in early September this year. We have nearly 200 business and policy leaders attend annually. This year with all the new tourism investment in the area and likelihood of seeing up to $1 billion more in the next 3 to 5 years, we’ve engaged the services of Adam Sack of Oxford Economics to share the results of his report with the audience.

We are trying to “walk the walk” as much as “talk the talk” when it comes to connecting tourism and economic development. However, I am only one example among many who are continuing to build this bridge and develop a productive and mutually beneficial relationship between tourism and economic development.

As we celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week in the United States, let us propel our message forward: Just as travel is good for a person’s mind, body, and soul, it is just as good for the economic health of communities. As DMOs, we are the local champions for travel, and we are the local stewards for this incredible industry we all love.

Carl Wilgus held the position of President/CEO at the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau, a four-county DMO located in Northeast Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2017. In addition, he actively  participates as a members of several committees and boards for the Monroe County United Way, the Pocono Medical Center, and East Stroudsburg Universities School of Hotel Restaurant and Tourism Management Program.

Prior to his relocation to the Pocono Mountains, Carl was the Director of Tourism for the State of Idaho, a position he held for twenty years. He moved the state’s top tourism position in the spring of 1987 after having spent thirteen years in Sun Valley, Idaho working in various capacities for the Sun Valley Company.

 A native of Tacoma, Washington and graduate of the University of Washington, Carl currently resides in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania with wife, daughter and granddaughter. He enjoys alpine skiing, golf, mountain biking, and reading.