According to the statistics, it appears that something is happening in the valley, something we’ve all talked about wanting for a long time: a growing summer economy.
In the second quarter of 2011 (April, May, June) the year-over-year meals, rooms, and alcohol sales reported in Dover jumped by 49%, 80.7%, and 64.1% respectively and in Wilmington by 5.6%, 32.6%, and 22.9% respectively over 2010 with an estimated increase of $1.1 million of new business reported. Looking at the third quarter (July, August, September) year-over-year numbers also show an upward trend, with Dover and Wilmington reporting an increase of about $100,000 in 2011 over 2010, even with Tropical Storm Irene washing out all of September 2011. A similar trend happened in the reported sales and use taxes.
So what’s causing this good news? Clearly the introduction of Tough Mudder in May 2011 was a huge economic positive. However, there was no Tough Mudder in the third quarter of last year, so something else must be going on.
My opinion is that another statistic that most people in the valley are not aware of is partly to blame for the new growth pattern. Since April 2011, there have been over 8,000 new visitors to the valley, generating over $1.5 million in new valleywide revenue specifically due to the efforts of the valley’s innkeepers and their use of social media marketing. The large majority of these new visitors have been summer visitors, and many of them have become repeat visitors.
As with any new marketing program, there was risk involved with the world of social media. The major social marketing companies like Living Social and Groupon ask a lot from the innkeepers, requiring them to offer their rooms at half-off their retail rate and then giving them about 60%-70% of the sale price. This meant the innkeepers were getting 30%-35% of retail rate for their rooms, and potentially doing more work for less money. However, they took the risk, thinking that it is better to get a discounted rate for their rooms instead of leaving them empty.
The risk worked.
The increase in revenue for the inns willing to try it was immediate and incredible. Almost instantaneously, summer occupancy rates jumped from 8%-10% to over 85% for some of the inns. This meant more people eating out at restaurants, shopping in local stores, buying gas at local gas stations, and paying more in local taxes that end up supporting local schools, police, fire, and infrastructure. There are even a few instances where people that first visited the valley on a new Living Social deal ending up falling in love with the area and bought real estate. A great new cycle.
Once word spread about the individual successes that inns were having, it began to snowball. From April 2011-today, at least one social media deal for lodging in the valley has been available for 50 of the 72 weeks.
The valley’s innkeepers are now competing on a global scale, introducing the valley to thousands of new travelers each year. Congratulations to the innkeepers on their new successes and for doing their part to build a new summer economy in the valley. Here’s to more success in the year ahead.
Philip Gilpin Jr.