Commissioners Hear Tourism Report, Marketing Plan

CLEARFIELD – Holly Komonczi, executive director of Visit Clearfield County (VCC) presented her annual tourism report and upcoming year’s marketing plan to the Clearfield County Commissioners at Tuesday’s workshop meeting.

Komonczi said the VCC marketing plan is “extensive” for 2013 and will serve as its sole reference guide for anything tourism-related, such as its budget, hotel tax funding and assets. She said the VCC staff reviewed other marketing plans and copied ideas from them.

“If anyone receives any questions, you should easily be able to reference that book. I even went so far as putting in the hunting season dates,” she said. “It’s the only place to go for any question on the tourism and marketing aspect.”

In recent years, Komonczi said the county has been interested in the origins of its visitors. She said the Pennsylvania Wilds contracted North Star Research, and each county a part of the 12-county region submitted its leads based upon travel planner requests. North Star Research subsequently compiled visitor data for the entire PA wilds region.

She said Clearfield County purchased its portion of the data. She said the North Star Research data was very extensive and included where visitors were coming from, their opinion of the county and what they’re doing during their visit.

In 2011, she said that $6,475,110 was invested in the economy for tourism. In other words, she said that amounts to $69 per person per day into the county’s economy. In addition, for every $1 invested in marketing, they’re seeing a return of almost $58. She said every 296 hotel stays creates one job in Clearfield County.

Komonczi said the VCC relies upon hoteliers to submit zip code information. She said they’re currently collaborating with students at the Clearfield County Career and Technology Center who are entering the figures into digital format. 

For example, she said some hoteliers have submitted the top 10 places that visitors are coming from. She said these are typically from New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., which is the targeted audience. She said additional visitor data will become available upon the students completing its compilation.

So far as her annual tourism report, Komonczi said it’s been another good year, which she believes she says about every year. She said the VCC had some positive public relations, as the Quehanna Wilds area was featured in Pennsylvania’s state magazine. She said her staff has picked up its effort in searching for these types of opportunities.

Additionally, she said the county had the “big river” designation with National Geographic listing the West Branch of the Susquehanna River as one of the 100 rivers to visit. She said it was really a “big deal” especially with the state’s Department of Transportation approving the river’s byway this past spring. She said it was the opening of the county’s first-ever byway and the 19th in the state.

Komonczi said there’s been an increase in people who want to hold larger meetings in Clearfield County. She said this is a market that she personally would like to tap into a little more. Komonczi said it’s been a struggle in the past, while Clearfield doesn’t really have a large facility. However, she said people are being more open-minded rather than conducting meetings in a hotel.

She said for example, the county hosted the Welcome Center meeting with representatives coming from across the state. She said they conducted their annual meeting and then the VCC staff bused them around the county. She said, “It was a great two days with the people who talking to the visitors who are coming here.”

“You know, we have the new hotels coming, so something is working. People are starting to recognize Interstate 80 and Clearfield County as basically their destination to stay,” said Komonczi.

She said the VCC’s hotel tax was down approximately $10,000 in the third quarter this year. She pointed out that last year was just a “stellar year” that was the VCC’s best ever. She said although the third quarter is its big one, she’s not concerned with the decrease while it doesn’t even compare to the increases it’s had in recent years.

After her report, Komonczi explained the VCC switches to “regional” marketing during the winter months. She said most visitors to Clearfield County come off I-80, which isn’t the case during the winter.  Because the traffic slows down, she said they have to identify ways to keep their hoteliers busy with the people who are here regionally.

“We really hit the Altoona, State College, Johnstown markets and try to get them to just come here for the weekend,” she said. She said the VCC’s lowest quarter is the fourth quarter and its second lowest is the first quarter.

Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said that back in 2004, they were only bringing in $320,000 in hotel tax. He said it has steadily increased over the years and now exceeds $500,000.

“Obviously, I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t get an increase this year. I want that. I don’t know what the reason is [for the decrease], but we need to capture that and make it better for next year,” said Komonczi.

County Solicitor Kim Kesner said he believed the third-quarter decrease was due to the economy. Both he and McCracken agreed the hotel tax figures would fluctuate a little bit from year-to-year.

When asked by Commissioner John A. Sobel, Komonczi said she believed the events at Penn State initially impacted hotel stays in Clearfield County. She said they’ll know with more certainty next year. McCracken said with Penn State football’s accomplishments this year it’ll bounce back with people quickly regaining interest. Komonczi agreed.

Komonczi said the county counts on these things, as well as Groundhog Day. She said if it snows massive amounts the day before, it hurts the county’s hotel stays when it would otherwise fill every room in the county.

Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen reminded Komonczi that the county will be getting two new hotels in DuBois and another in Clearfield, which will create more rooms. Komonczi said the county had also gained three, new cottages last year.

Robinson-McMillen said the hotel tax applies to hotels, bread and breakfasts and any place where people stay overnight. She said the VCC staff has worked hard to make these entities understand the importance of paying that tax, as it comes back and benefits the county.

“I feel very fortunate that we’re all on the same mission, which is job creation and the economy,” said Komonczi.

Kesner commended both the commissioners and the VCC. When county government creates an authority and assigns it a function, he said there isn’t any guarantee that it will be successful.

“But this is an unqualified success,” he said.

McCracken added that there was some controversy within the hotel industry when the board decided to pull away from the Northwest Great Outdoors and take over the county’s tourism promotion. But in hindsight now, he said it was “100 percent the right decision.”

McCracken said so far as tourism, they need to concentrate on Clearfield County and participate on a regional level, which it does through the PA Wilds.

“And, we’re seeing the success of it,” he said.

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