Justin Genzlinger is hopeful for a snowy, cold winter that brings people back to the Poconos.
“There are some unknowns, but I think there are some things that we know about,” he said. “The last two years have been awful. It was a very challenging time.”
Genzlinger, general manager of the Settlers Inn in Hawley, said there’s a lot of interest in holiday parties for the upcoming winter season, but there’s a bigger question if further shutdowns and restrictions could be a reality.
“Outdoor dining will shut down soon,” he said. “Propane heaters only work so well. As long as we can operate in our normal capacity, we expect to have a lot of people here visiting this winter.”
Restaurants, ski resorts, casinos, and shopping destinations are gearing up for a busy season. With COVID-19 restrictions in place last year, it gave many destinations a shock to their wallet.
“Events are coming back in smaller form,” said Genzlinger. “We are hoping that people come back and spend money.”
Tourism in the Poconos is big business. According to the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau, more than 18 million day-trippers visit the Poconos each year, with an additional 10 million making their stay overnight. Tourism accounts for nearly 25-percent of all jobs in the Poconos, and two-thirds of all labor income comes from labor income.
Genzlinger said the winter season is a bit of a ‘crapshoot.’
“We tend to do only well if we have a true winter if we have snow,” he said. “But if it’s too snowy and stormy, then we get a lot of cancellations. We are that cozy getaway. We have to walk that balance. The winter could be our worst time of year, but we could be surprised with the population of people living here and working from home come and visit. We could get an uptick out of that.”
He said 2021 has been better business-wise, but added with staffing shortages, it’s made things tougher.
“It’s been harder to deliver the hospitality experience we would like, but we’ve been able to rebound,” he said.
Shawn Hauver, general manager at Camelback in Tannersville, said he expects this winter to be ‘fantastic.’
“With the lessening of some of the COVID-19 restrictions from last year, will help us with capacity and crowding issues that we ran into last year,” he said.
Hauver said according to their internal figures, more ‘first-time’ skiers and snowboarders tried out the sport than ever before. He expects many of those people to return in 2021.
“We’re looking forward to developing that customer,” he said. “We hope many of them will be back this year.
Hauver said Camelback, which is operated by KSL Resorts, did learn a few things from the restrictions.
“Because we were restricted with indoor dining space, we were forced to think about how to serve our customers quickly,” he said. “Last year, we had food trucks, outdoor bar-b-que and beverage stations and people loved them because they were able to spread out. It made the service better.”
Pennsylvania has 26 ski areas across the state, with the bulk of them located in the Pocono Mountains and ranks sixth in the U.S. with about 3.5 million winter visitors each year. It has a $360 million economic impact on the state, according to the Pennsylvania Ski Association, which did a study of the ski industry in 2014. More than 14,000 people work at ski resorts across the state. Snowsports dump about $2 million in tax revenue into Pennsylvania’s economy.
Ashley Seier, a spokeswoman for Blue Mountain Resort in Palmerton expects a busy ski season.
“Last year many people discovered fun in the outdoors due to COVID restrictions. We expect the demand to be outside to remain,” she said.
Seier said when natural snow is in the forecast, people are drawn to the slopes for a day or even a weekend. She said last year, the mountain saw a record snowfall.
As far as capacity, Seier said there are still some unknowns and they are staying ‘cautious’ with the changes.
“Currently, season passes are sold out for this season to further help us manage capacity,” she said adding they will again put a restriction on day ticket and lesson sales.
Seier said with coronavirus restrictions last season, they will adopt more outdoor food and beverage options for guests.
“We will offer 3 new Food Trucks this year and expanded outdoor seating areas,” adding that everything can be paid for with a QR code.