EDITORIAL: Bring on the tourists

York Dispatch

For many years, York County was best known for the things it was close to.

York is close to Gettysburg, close to Lancaster, close to Baltimore, not too far from Philadelphia, and pretty close to Washington, D.C.

Tourists were encouraged to use York as a base to take in all the sights in the region. But actually coming to visit York? Maybe not so much.

At Gifford Pinchot State Park Park, visitors were making good use of near perfect weather for a hike in the woods or a day of fishing.   Bil Bowden photos

That's all changing.

York County hotels are doing a booming business, with a 4.3 percent increase in demand last year compared with 2015, according to Smith Travel Accommodations. The county had more than 790,000 hotel rooms booked in 2016.

This year is picking up even more, with hotel revenue up about 6.1 percent so far compared with last year, according to the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"That's great news for us — because last year was a good year," said Andrew Staub, communications specialist for the YCCVB.

In fact, York County hotels have seen an increase in demand that is twice the regional increase and nearly four times the growth rate for the state.

And a change in the state law means that more of that money from hotel rooms is going to make sure that the trend continues.

Last April, the state allowed 57 counties, including York, to increase the hotel-occupancy tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. York County took advantage of that right away, and as a result, the county will see approximately $1.2 million more each year to increase tourism, with $400,000 going to the York Expo Center and the remainder to the YCCVB, with a task force developing a tourism grant program.

York County set for summer tourism

Most weekends, especially during the summer, there are sports tournaments held around York County, from baseball and softball at Memorial Park to volleyball and wrestling at York Expo Center to swimming at the Graham Aquatic Center. The Keystone Games, held at venues all around the county, will draw people from six other states for high-level competitions in July.

Then there are the tours.

York has leveraged its manufacturing base to become the manufacturing tour capital. Check out the Made in America event June 14-17 to see how we make everything from potato chips and pretzels to violins and furniture, and top it off with a trip through the Harley-Davidson plant to see an American icon come to life.

And you can't forget the history.

The York County History Center is working on gathering all of the pieces into one area where people can see the important place York County has held, from the signing of the Articles of Confederation through the turbulence of the early 1800s and the Civil War, continuing as a manufacturing base during World War II and through today.

You won't be able to drive around York this week without seeing some of the 20,000 car enthusiasts hitting the streets this weekend for the National Street Rod Association Nationals East and the Yorkers who will be watching the cars along Route 30 and Carlisle Road. The event has been coming here for 37 years, and it's one of the hundreds of events booked at the York Expo Center each year.

York County tourism growth outpacing region, state averages

Nature lovers have three state parks, 11 county parks and a variety of activities from kayaking on the Susquehanna to hiking and biking the Rail Trail to birdwatching. For wine lovers, there's the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail, and beer lovers have a new attraction, the Keystone Craft Spirits Trail.

Even Yorkers are taking a second look at the county for a vacation spot.

“Normally, we try to get to the beach, but sometimes we think we should just stay here and enjoy it," said Andrea Ebert, of Newberry Township.

Tourism brings in nearly $1 billion to York County's economy each year, from hotel rooms, restaurants, shopping, ticket sales and the thousands of other things people on vacation spend money on. Let's work together to keep fueling this important economic driver.