Tourism Transformed: How Destinations Are Preparing For An Unknown 2021

COVER PHOTO: Outside of Decades restaurant, bar, retro arcade, and boutique bowling alley on a beautiful Spring day

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 Thriving Magazine and was written by Tony Gorick, Creative Services Manager at the Lancaster Chamber. Read the entire Thriving Magazine online here.

Take a moment to hear it all once again: excited laughter of kids on a roller coaster under the summer sun, the clink of glasses as you toast to warm weather at a local restaurant, inspiring voices echoing from the theatre stage, the crack of a baseball bat meeting a ball before a winning home run.

There is something special about the destinations in Lancaster County and the experiences so many people, both local and distant, know and love.

It’s a gross understatement to say that the hospitality industry was hugely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic over the course of the last year and a half. Yet, like so many other businesses in our community and beyond, there is a resilience and dedication to build back, safely reopen, and add new experiences for 2021.

“Tourism has always been a huge economic driver of Lancaster County as it brings in millions of people outside the area,” says Tom Baldrige, President & CEO of the Lancaster Chamber. “Yet I also want to encourage residents of Lancaster to ‘Think Local’ and support the destinations around us in this vibrant County as local ‘tourists’ as well. From staycations at a local resort or bed and breakfast, to visiting some of the great shops, restaurants, and experiences we offer in all areas of the County, supporting local is more important now than ever. Make it part of your spring and summer plans to try new things, revisit your favorite spots, and invest in what’s around us here in Lancaster.”

We interviewed a variety of local leaders in the attraction industry to hear how they are safely preparing, adding new experiences, and how Lancaster County residents can invest in these destinations as part of Thinking Local and sustaining our community.

Merlin’s Mayhem roller coaster at Dutch Wonderland (photo provided by Dutch Wonderland).

BUILDING BACK CONFIDENCE: SAFELY REOPENING

As a robust vaccination plan continues, and as the weather begins to warm, our Lancaster County attractions are preparing to safely reopen, welcome visitors, and begin a busy 2021 season.

“Our tourism properties have been diligent about obtaining relevant health and safety guidelines and best practices and then putting them into operation,” says Edward Harris, President & CEO of Discover Lancaster. “The industry fully recognizes that the first step in a great visitor experience is feeling comfortable and confident in your surroundings, and we have placed a priority on achieving that comfort since day one.”

Harris ensures that locations will continue to model safe practices and encourage guests to do the same as we navigate the year.

“Our visitor metrics like website traffic and lodging data have been trending up since the start of the year, so we’re hopeful that this build-back will continue as we head further into spring and the summer,” adds Harris. “We have a number of new offerings debuting this year, as well as especially appealing attributes right now like numerous outdoor activities and being a traditional roadtrip destination – so we believe all of that will work in our favor during 2021.”

A major local attraction is preparing to open its kingdom gates on May 15: Dutch Wonderland.

“Last year was so tough for businesses and attractions like ours because we’d never experienced a scenario like this before,” says Jeffrey Eisenberg, Director of Marketing at Dutch Wonderland. “Now, we have more than a year of experience with COVID-19 and we’re ahead of the game in preparing for a successful summer season.”

The Dutch Wonderland team is again implementing safe mitigation measures like temperature checks before entry, masks for everyone ages two and up, social distancing, an abundance of sanitation stations, and other plans to help ensure success.

“To all guests thinking of visiting Dutch Wonderland this year, we want you to know that our guests’ health and safety is always our first priority,” adds Eisenberg. “That means we’ll always err on the side of caution, COVID or not, because it’s our goal to provide the cleanest, safest destination for family entertainment.”

Overhead photo at Kitchen Kettle Village

Kitchen Kettle Village, another popular destination for a variety of tourists from all over the region, is preparing similarly.

“Kitchen Kettle Village is the perfect getaway – whether for two hours or the entire day,” says Lisa Horn, Director of Fun at Kitchen Kettle Village. “The outdoor spaces are ideal for social distancing, coupled with fun events, enhanced cleaning procedures, and required mask wearing in shops, all of which should make our guests feel safe.”

At a time where people are desperate to connect and have fun experiences, these destinations are stepping it up. Decades, a unique boutique bowling alley, arcade, restaurant, and bar in Downtown Lancaster, is ensuring safe operations while still giving guests an engaging, memorable experience.

Riders on the Kingdom Coaster at Dutch Wonderland – Photo provided by Dutch Wonderland

“The Decades team has taken every measure for the last year, and beyond, to maintain a safe and enjoyable experience,” says Jonathan Yeager, Marketing & Events Manager/Partner at Decades. “We have followed all CDC guidelines throughout the pandemic to keep our staff and our customers safe and cannot thank our customers enough for supporting us through this past year. We are open and we are ready to give you a memorable, safe entertainment experience!”

One announcement that provided a wave of relief to baseball fans and the community alike happened early this year: baseball is back on June 4. The Lancaster Barnstormers, who play at Clipper Magazine Stadium, will be back for a season after taking a hiatus due to the pandemic.

Cylo relaxes at Clipper Magazine Stadium, home of the Barnstormers baseball team

“We are very excited to have baseball back,” says Mike Reynolds, General Manager at the Lancaster Barnstormers and Clipper Magazine Stadium. “We have set up our seating to allow for families to sit together with spacing between the next group of guests. Our staff will also be cleaning and sanitizing all common areas throughout all games and events to provide a safe and fun experience for all.”

In Columbia, PA, the Turkey Hill Experience has shifted to accommodate safety measures for tourists and local visitors.

Tea tasting at the Turkey Hill Experience

“We are requiring reservations to ensure we don’t exceed revised capacities, we’re requiring temperature screenings prior to entry, we have multiple sanitizing stations throughout the facility, and we’ve made our touch-screens touchless through the use of stylus,” says Bob Adams, General Manager at the Turkey Hill Experience. “We have enhanced our cleaning protocols and maintain appropriate distancing so we can give our guests the wonderful experience they’ve come to expect here.’’

Live entertainment, including theatre, has been one of the biggest impacted areas in hospitality, with closed venues and cancelled shows being the new unfortunate norm these organizations have to navigate.

The Doobie Brothers concert at American Music Theatre

“By monitoring the gradual reopening of other entities and speaking with leaders in the sporting events, academic, and hospitality sectors, we’ve been able to gain a clearer understanding of which measures are proving most effective, which instill the most confidence, and how to best implement them,” says Brandon Martin, Director of Operations at American Music Theatre. “Some steps we are working toward involve an investment, such as new air filtration units, specialized lighting, and antiviral effects hazers to replace our current units within the performance space — others simply involve ways in which we can operate more effectively in regards to combating the spread of illness in general.”

Martin hopes that American Music Theatre will have a better understanding of timelines once the year progresses.

There is another local experience that gets visitors howling: the Wolf Sanctuary of PA, located in Lititz. The organization is an educational facility that offers refuge to gray wolves and wolf-dogs.

Running Bear curiously peering at the camera through the trees at the Wolf Sanctuary

“As we slowly begin to increase our tours, we have taken extra precautions to ensure that our visitors, volunteers, and staff remain safe and healthy,” says Michelle Mancini, Education Coordinator at the Wolf Sanctuary of PA. “Our tours are outdoors and visitors must wear masks and social distance throughout the tour. Our gift shop has also been remodeled with safety in mind, and we continue to expand our online gift shop as well for those who wish to shop remotely.”

ADDED ADVENTURES: WHAT’S NEW IN 2021

Even though it’s an unusual season, it’s still about to be summer – and with that brings new additions and new experiences to explore.

“Guests seem to be really excited to visit Dutch Wonderland again. We plan to have a much fuller season this year,” says Eisenberg. “We also own and operate the Cartoon Network Hotel, right next door to the park. Since the hotel closed for part of last year due to COVID, I’m really excited to see the property’s outdoor amenities get their first full summer. A new resort-style pool, Powerpuff Girls splash pad, outdoor movie screenings, and more, are in store for our guests!”

Another new addition to the great lineup of retail spots at Kitchen Kettle Village is MOMS Pretzels, a pretzel and lemonade shop that is donating all profits to local charities. The shop will feature a charity of the month so guests know the impact their purchases are making. Also, there will be new Spring Fling Shopping Packages offered at Kitchen Kettle Village now through June 30, 2021 that include lunch and free gifts from eight of the shops.

Although American Music Theatre isn’t ready to announce an exact date as to when doors will be open once again, the team is hard at work with exciting initiatives.

Previous Christmas Show at American Music Theatre

“Right now we’re focusing squarely on our 2021 Christmas Show, Winter Wonderland, and a jam-packed summer/fall concert calendar that will feature some perennial American Music Theatre favorites as well as many shows we’re welcoming to Lancaster for the first time,” says Martin. “Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for the content that we have in store. This past year has given us something that is always in short supply in this industry – time – and we’ve utilized it to plan and build a Christmas Show that will be bigger and better than ever before, and to cultivate a celebrity roster that is shaping up to be our strongest yet.”

As the year progresses the Wolf Sanctuary is hoping to expand tours to allow even more guests to safely experience the conservation.

Also, Clipper Magazine Stadium hopes to continue providing outdoor entertainment, in addition to the much-anticipated baseball season, including movie nights, music events, kickball leagues, and more, that proved popular last year.

One destination that is open and ready for guests to enjoy new collections and added experiences is the North Museum of Nature & Science.

“Guests can now enjoy our collections, which include more than 400,000 objects in disciplines ranging from archaeology to zoology,” says Scott Downs, Director of Corporate Giving & Media Relations at the North Museum. “Our theme for May will be Space, and we’ll also present Journey To Africa: Elephants where guests can explore the world of African elephants and learn even more about life on the African continent.”

Cozmo is being used at the North Museum to help visitors learn and explore real robotics technology and coding.

The North Museum goes Under the Stars for its 6th Annual Cosmic Bash, Saturday evening, May 22, on the Museum lawn on the Franklin & Marshall campus. The event is the Museum’s signature annual fundraiser; a gala benefiting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Education opportunities for children in Lancaster County, and throughout Central Pennsylvania.

“Atomic, which designed the set for the Superbowl LV halftime show, will create the Cosmic Bash event design,” adds Downs. “This newly-envisioned outdoor experience will be filled with stimulating science activities, heavenly food and drink, and celestial music. The ever-popular silent auction returns, accessible in-person and online! The silent auction will include products and gift cards from local businesses, with the aim of helping the community’s recovery from the financial challenges they’ve faced in the past year. Tickets are available now!”

LIVING LOCAL: HOW LANCASTER RESIDENTS CAN SUPPORT DESTINATIONS

Though visitors outside of Lancaster County travel and support our destinations, it’s imperative we also do our part as local residents and businesses in supporting the venues, experiences, restaurants, and attractions to keep them sustained.

Strasburg Railroad – Photo credit DiscoverLancaster.com

“While all aspects of tourism have suffered from COVID, food & drink properties, the performing arts, and lodging have been hit especially hard,” says Harris. “Any extra opportunity that folks have to enjoy their favorite Lancaster County food or beverage, treat themselves to an overnight staycation, and patronize live performances as they return will be a huge boost to these segments of our industry.”

Brandon Martin at American Music Theatre agrees.

“I would urge anyone who sees the benefit of having a healthy live arts element within their community to simply show up once we’re all back up and running,” says Martin. “Perhaps that means some folks taking a chance on a form of entertainment that is not a typical one for them. I promise they will not be disappointed!”

“We just went through a year unlike anything any of us has ever experienced,” adds Adams. “Our Turkey Hill team is 100% committed to allowing families, friends, groups and all people to come and safely make moments that turn into memories that they will cherish forever.”

Local Lancaster guests are a big portion of the audience for both Dutch Wonderland and Decades.

“For all those Lancaster or Central PA locals, we hope as you venture out that you’ll enjoy some of the gems right in our own backyards,” says Eisenberg. “That includes Dutch Wonderland and the Cartoon Network Hotel, but also the many other great attractions throughout Lancaster County, too. Many tourism industry surveys suggest that, for many, travel will not be as far from home this year. As everyone starts to venture back out, we want you to know that your local and regional favorites are here for you to enjoy.”

“Decades is a prime location for Lancaster residents or businesses to have events, and we can’t wait to get back to hosting team building events, work parties, weddings, rehearsal dinners, anniversaries, retirement celebrations, and birthday parties,” adds Yeager. “We really do love to throw parties, and we will all want to celebrate once we can do so again!”

Overhead shot of the Decades arcade, restaurant, bar, and bowling lanes

Other ways to support businesses include purchasing gift cards and donating to a variety of causes or programs.

The Wolf Sanctuary of PA has suffered from a number of restrictions, lowering their ability to give their typical-capacity tours making it critical for those who enjoy the organization to make symbolic wolf adoptions, donations, or become Members.

Support is also not limited to just individuals. Businesses can be a catalyst for support as well. Your business or organization can explore sponsorship packages at places like Clipper Magazine Stadium and American Music Theatre, or prioritize local spots like Kitchen Kettle Village or the robust restaurant scene for employee gifts.

The North Museum also has opportunities for sponsorship with their educational initiatives: North Museum @ Home (an innovative e-learning portal and curriculum), School @ North Museum (an on-site program facilitated by an experienced and certified teacher) and After School @ North Museum (a program that provides parents with a safe, fun and educational solution for their children during work hours).

Kids expressed why they love the North Museum

Overall, local support is crucial – from buying your favorite cheeseburger from a local pub, to visiting attractions like Dutch Wonderland, Strasburg Railroad, or our assortment of theatres, to shopping local for gifts, to going that extra mile to donate to a nonprofit that is in dire need of an extra boost.

“Together our business community, and community at large, can make a huge impact on the sustainability and success of our hospitality and attraction businesses here in Lancaster County,” adds Baldrige. “We can all play a part in helping businesses as we look towards hope on the horizon in 2021 and beyond.”