For the tourism-and-hospitality industry in New Castle County and all of Delaware, my New Year’s resolution for 2015 is to continue on the upward swing from 2014. National forecasts will come out in early 2015, but the great news in 2014 is that we are seeing the highest occupancy levels since 2006 in New Castle County.
The Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau (GWCVB) is the destination marketing organization for New Castle County. Our mission is to attract out-of-town visitors for leisure and business travel. The majority of our revenue comes from a portion of the lodging tax these visitors pay.
Here are some of the trends we saw in 2014 that we feel will carry over into the future.
Sports tourism is growing in Delaware. We work closely with the Delaware Sports Commission on bringing tournaments and sporting events to Delaware. New for 2015 is the US Lacrosse Northeast Championships that will be held at Kirkwood Soccer Complex and is expected to bring in 1,000 room nights. The GWCVB assisted in securing this tournament with a transportation incentive.
Several returning sporting events, such as the Delaware Marathon and the Grand Prix and Gran Fondo, will generate room nights and economic impact for hotels and restaurants. We are working with the Chicago Sky for a return visit and preseason game in 2015.
The Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference will be in Wilmington in August 2015. We have other citywide conferences pending and several other conferences that are being finalized. Site tours of the area are on an increase by meeting planners and associations. We have hired a third party to make sales calls to push out the message of what the Greater Wilmington area has to offer. We are booking leads into 2018.
We are excited to partner with our regional partners at the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau for the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit to Philadelphia in September 2015. The total estimated economic impact for the region has been projected at $450 million.
The GWCVB partners with the Brandywine Museum Garden Alliance on the Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport—one ticket to 11 attractions, valid Memorial Day to Labor Day. Last year, we had online ticket orders from 18 states and two countries.
Additional indicators that we are seeing at the GWCVB increased Web traffic to our website, www.VisitWilmingtonDE.com, averaging 32,000 per month. In December, we launched our new mobile-friendly website to meet the growing demand for a mobile site. We see mobile use of our site increasing, particularly for restaurants and attractions.
Travel writers and the media are responding to press releases and story ideas. Some great pieces in the past three months have included “Winter Weekend in Wilmington” in Baltimore magazine and a USA TODAY slideshow titled “Beautiful Delaware,” plus more coverage on www.JustSayGo.com and in Antiques & Fine Art magazine, the New England Antiques Journal, and Food Traveler magazine.
The Greater Wilmington region is positioned for growth in all of these areas. We are excited about the future.
(Sarah Willoughby is executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.)