Writer: Capital Analytics
2 min read November 2021— At the onset of the pandemic, it quickly became clear that tourism and hospitality would be among the hardest hit sectors of the economy, both nationally and locally. As the recovery began in earnest with the development of vaccines, it became equally apparent that the economy would not be fully recovered until those sectors were growing again.
Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia told Invest: that Bucks county is ready for more, and is prepared to provide a safe experience for travelers. “Whether it’s shopping in historic Bristol Borough, dinner and a show in New Hope, or saddling up on 25 miles of trails in our horse park in Nockamixon Township, Bucks County has something for everyone. Our county is open and our businesses stand ready to welcome you back safely.
For many destinations, tourism and hospitality have long been an indicator of wider economic strength, and in this case, recovery. In this regard, Bucks County appears to be ahead of the game. As Americans begin to ramp up travel, the county, which sits just north of Philadelphia and 75 miles from New York City, is an easily accessible getaway from these major cities, a fact that both helped it through the pandemic and that will push it forward into the recovery.
“Bucks County has a long history of serving as an escape from major metropolitan cities for artists, intellectuals and those just seeking to unwind and relax. Our tourism product is a diverse mix of outdoor adventure, riverside towns and main streets, arts and culture, history and independent retail. That base along with a growing craft beer scene, established wineries and distilleries and great restaurants with outdoor dining allowed the hospitality sector to navigate the pandemic,” Paul Bencivengo, president and COO of Visit Bucks County, told Invest:.
As one of the three original counties that would in time become the state of Pennsylvania, Bucks County has a variety of offerings to attract visitors across all demographics. Visit Bucks County, one of the county’s economic development arms and its official tourism promotion agency, is looking to capitalize on the trend of the American road trip as the pathway toward revitalizing the local economy.
Underscoring the importance of tourism to the overall Bucks County economy, the sector attracted 6.36 million visitors — and their spending power — in 2020, with an estimated direct visitor spend of $449 million just last year alone, in spite of the impact of the pandemic, according to a study by ESI (Econsult Solutions). It was a good sign for the county despite a drop in overall figures when compared to the pre-pandemic year. The overall economic impact of the pandemic represented a 23% decline in overall visitation from 8.29 million in 2019, while the economic impact of the tourism sector, including direct, indirect and induced spending, was $787 million, or a 27% decline from 2019, according to the same study by ESI.
There is work to do, of course, but the numbers point to a strong foundation for the industry in the county. “Despite the pandemic, Bucks County experienced widespread tourism development during 2020 and 2021, including the opening of new boutique lodging properties, venue expansions, new restaurants and breweries,” said Bencivengo.
Visitor spending in the past year and a half, even if less than pre-pandemic, has helped local businesses and retailers stay open throughout a challenging time. It also grew employment opportunities across the region and helped to support 56,520 jobs, 11,050 of which were in Bucks County, highlighting the impact of hospitality and tourism as the pulse of the overall economy not just for Bucks County but for any region looking to attract visitors.
Despite the challenges, the county generated strong traffic and revenue due to its outdoor offerings by capitalizing on targeted data analytics and focusing on seasonal tourism products as independent marketing campaigns for the county. By tracking online searches for outdoor activities during the various seasons, Visit Bucks County was able to develop specific campaigns that became Holidays in Bucks County, Spring in Bucks County, Summer in Bucks County, and currently, Fall in Bucks County.
The county has also made adjustments to its strategies to maximize visitors to the area, allowing events and local attractions to run for weeks or months at a time, with Bencivengo elaborating in his statement that, “Bucks County attractions have learned so much over the last 19 months and have created new ways of attracting visitors and managing crowds.”
Those offerings can be found across the county. On the banks of the Delaware River, for example, sits the idyllic town of New Hope, a top tourist destination. The New Hope Historical Society offers walking tours across the town, with attractions such as Parry Mansion, built in 1784 by one of New Hope’s founders, Benjamin Parry, and Bucks County Playhouse, which was constructed in the early 20th century and hosted icons such as Grace Kelly and Dick Van Dyke. Similarly, while Peddler’s Village may be younger, the colonial-era inspired center offers a variety of restaurants and retail experiences that invite visitors and locals alike to walk around the area. Over in Doylestown, there is the “Mercer Mile,” with a number of museums and historical sites to visit, such as the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle, demonstrating the unique vision and legacy of archeologist Henry Mercer. The museum itself offers a permanent collection of pre-industrial tools and materials, giving visitors a unique window into how Americans lived and worked prior to the Industrial Revolution. Interactive offerings can be found at the Moravian Pottery and Tileworks, where visitors can try their hand at pottery. There is also the Michener Art Museum, founded by Pulitzer-prize winner and Doylestown resident James A. Michener.
Other historical sites to visit include the network of towns, churches and homes that made up the Underground Railroad in Bucks County. At 200 years old, the African American Methodist Episcopal Church, located in Bensalem, is one of the oldest Black churches in the country. The town of Yardley, meanwhile, features several homes and stores that served as safe houses for escaped and runaway slaves. Yardley also maintains an alehouse, the Vault Brewing Company, housed in a 19th century bank. Similarly, there is the town of Langhorne, which was called Attleboro in the Civil War era and was home to one of the earliest free Black communities in Bucks County. Langhorne is home to the Langhorne Brewing Company, another stop on the Bucks County Ale Trail.
For younger families that may be looking around in Langhorne, there remains one offering that is unique to the county: Sesame Place, the sole theme and water park based upon the children’s educational show. The park offers a number of both wet and dry rides, parades and dining options for families and children.
The importance of the tourism and hospitality sectors is not lost on the local community, with Bencivengo detailing the understanding the community has with regard to the contributions of the sector to the local economy. “The community is invested and proud to market its local restaurants, breweries, parks and attractions.” He noted that the luxury-lifestyle brand trend had established itself in New Hope with the opening of three new boutique hotels — River House at Odette’s, Logan Inn and Ghost Light Inn — over the last year.
“The story of our economic recovery post-pandemic will have much to do with our tourism industry bouncing back, and our administration will continue to support those efforts. With so much to offer, we hope you’ll plan your family’s next vacation in Bucks County. We can’t wait to see you,” said Commissioner Bob Harvie.
Added Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo: “We’re proud to have been able to devote resources to help Visit Bucks County get the word out about our great tourism industry. We’re perfectly situated between Philadelphia and New York City for visitors looking for a getaway. There’s no place better to celebrate the seasons.”
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