The COVID-19 pandemic caused a large drop in tourism to Bucks County, scuttled many of the planned events, and closed a number of destinations for weeks at a time, allowing reopening for many under strict mitigation measures.
Bucks County reported a 26 percent drop in hotel occupancy in 2020, but tourism officials are optimistic for 2021 as many destinations have adjusted for COVID-19 safety measures and vaccination efforts roll out across the country.
“Even with our declines in visitation, Bucks County faired much better than other destinations due to our location and travel product,” county-wide tourism agency Visit Bucks County President and COO Paul Bencivengo during a virtual event Tuesday morning.
Frank Lyons, the chairman of the board of directors for Visit Bucks County, said the organization has been able to pivot to support tourism and hospitality businesses in Bucks County. He said the collaboration has been “dynamic” between the organization, destinations, and government.
For example, said Lyons, restaurants quickly moved to new takeout formats and several new restaurants still opened within the county. He also pointed to brewery and winery expansions, the opening of the River House at Odette’s in New Hope Borough, expansion of virtual experiences from area museums and theaters, and Middletown Township’s Sesame Place’s effort to reopen COVID-19 safe.
Lyons said many destinations that are undertaking COVID-19 mitigation measures are rolling out specials for visitors planning to come in 2021. He said vaccine distribution will be key to tourism.
In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, Bucks County’s tourism industry reported a record-breaking 8.29 million visitors, $1.1 billion in economic impact, and supported 29,000 jobs.
Visit Bucks County continued to update tourism information on its website and advertised in 2020, but focused more on in-county visits due to the pandemic.
The tourism agency’s website saw 1.5 million website visitors, up about 14 percent over 2019. The organization also saw referrals for information about destinations rise by 30 percent last year, Bencivengo said.
Myha Gallagher, the senior director of research for Destination Analysts, a firm that works with Visit Bucks County, said data from this month shows that Americans find dining out, staying at a hotel, going shopping, outdoor recreation, and taking a road trip among the tourism safest activities. Taking a cruise was seen as the least safe.
More Americans are saying that they would enjoy a getaway with COVID-19 restrictions in place. About a quarter have talked about future trips and done research online.
A total of 54.9 percent of those polled said last week that they are excited to travel at some point over the course of 2021, Gallagher said.
The Visit Bucks County team is already planning marketing and programs to boost tourism as the pandemic eases, Bencivengo said.
“We remain optimistic as we hear data from our research partners,” he stated.
Nearly everyone involved in the tourism and hospitality industry knows that expansion of vaccines will only help the industry.
While the initial rollout has been slow, a quicker and more widespread distribution will only help grow travel and ease government mitigation measures. President Joe Biden’s administration has vowed to get 100 million doses out in the administrations first 100 days.
Gallagher said polling shows that Americans are increasingly optimistic about traveling as vaccine distribution continues. About 51 percent of those polled plan to wait to travel until they get the vaccine.
Last week’s polling showed that about 70 percent of Americans feel the vaccines are safe.
Polling, according to Gallagher, has shown that less congested and rural destinations are preferred amid the pandemic, a shift over pre-pandemic polling.
Visit Bucks County is continuing to partner with the county’s workforce development program to help destinations and meet their needs, Bencivengo said.
Last summer, the Bucks County Commissioners provided Visit Bucks County with $3.7 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to help shore up the industry.
Visit Bucks County worked with the county and other partners on programs to assist small businesses and tourism and hospitality destinations throughout 2020.
Bucks County officials have said they awarded more than $25 million in CARES Act funds to small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Visit Bucks County plans to bring back the Bucks County Tourism Grant Program in 2021.
Below are some highlights Visit Bucks County is showcasing for 2021:
HOTELS & B&B’S
Logan Inn expansion set to finish in the spring. The Logan Inn expansion brings more than 40 stylish rooms to New Hope. An event space and multiple breakout rooms are also in the works. Featuring an award-winning restaurant, bar, private dining space, fine art displays and live entertainment, the well-programmed main level will prove to be the social center of New Hope and the perfect wedding destination.
An entertainment series and wine lovers’ getaway from the River House at Odette’s. River House at Odette’s, Bucks County’s newest luxury hotel, event venue and restaurant, is offering a “Wine Down Package” in 2021. The package includes a 2-night stay, wine-centric welcome amenity, 4-course prix fix wine dinner and private wine tasting with a River House Sommelier. Every Thursday in 2021 the hotel will host violinist Gina Corso and pianist Bob Egan from 6-9 p.m. to serenade those in the restaurant with eclectic tunes that would make Odette Myrtil herself proud.
Riverside B&B, Bridgeton House on the Delaware, celebrates 40 years of welcoming guests to the banks of the Delaware River. Luxury lodging suites, magnificent river views and warm hospitality have made this beautiful historic inn a top-rated destination for 40 years. Plan your 2021 getaway to Bridgeton House and take $40 off a two-night stay when you mention “40 years” at the time of booking. Another offer for 2021 is the inn’s complimentary breakfast in bed deal through May. Wake up to a home-cooked breakfast in a delightful suite! Finally, the inn is also launching their “Workcation Package” for the savvy business traveler or locals needing a change of scenery.
The Holiday Inn Express Philadelphia NE-Bensalem makes space. The Northeast-Bensalem location of the popular chain hotel will be completing renovations of their 141 guestrooms by end of 2020. During 2021, there are plans for improvements to the lobby, public space, and exterior.
WEDDING & EVENT SPACE
Pearl S. Buck House opens new conference and event space. The Perkasie based Pearl S. Buck House is expected to open their new Conference and Event Center in April. It will provide the perfect rustic venue in a beautiful, serene 60+ acre setting for business meetings and retreats, community and civic engagements, weddings, and family gatherings for locals and visitors. Pearl S. Buck House will also have a new virtual exhibit online beginning in January titled, “I Speak as One Who Knows: The Story of The Child Who Never Grew,” about Buck’s experience raising a differently-abled child and advocating for those with special needs.
Pen Ryn Estate in Bensalem opens third venue space, the indoor/outdoor River’s Edge. Boasting space for 300 guests, River’s Edge is a beautifully landscaped, secluded, state-of-the-art 40’ x 100’ tented venue crafted for couples seeking the “wow” factor. Fully heated and air conditioned, River’s Edge provides all the amenities of a building. Situated just 100 feet from the Delaware River, River’s Edge has a stunning backdrop, ceremony site, bridal suite, full commercial kitchen, grand cocktail hour and reception spaces, surround-sound audio system and more.
Celebrations Wedding Venue expands menu to include vegan options. In an effort to keep up with guests’ dietary demands, Celebrations, a Bensalem wedding venue, is now offering couples new hors d’oeuvres and entrées catering specifically to vegetarians and vegans. Indulge in tasty menu items including slow roasted tomato hummus, chickpea bruschetta with sun-dried tomatoes, sweet potato and avocado tartar, vegetable biryani, and roasted tomato stuffed with creamy risotto.
BEER, WINE & SPIRITS
Perkasie will soon have the most microbreweries of any small town in Bucks County. Exciting things are “perk”ing up in Bucks County’s upper borough. In December 2020, The Ram restaurant, pub and area’s only rooftop dining establishment, opened in Perkasie’s Town Center. Plan on having yourself a Perkasie pub crawl by the end of 2021 with stops at Free Will Brewing, The Ram, the Perkasie Olde Town Tavern, The Perk, Mystic Ways Brewing (opening spring/summer 2021), and Van Lieus Brewing Co. (opening spring/summer 2021) – the latter two located in the Walnut Street District.
The Bucks County Ale Trail expands, adding new breweries and taprooms. Alongside the two Perkasie breweries mentioned, Aristaeus Craft Brewing Co., an open-concept nano-brewery, is expected to open in Middletown Township. The nano-brewery will feature indoor and outdoor seating with taps that serve a variety of true-to-style beers and hand-crafted nitro cold brew coffees, as well as specialty cocktails. Visitors can also check out Warwick Farm Brewing’s new taproom opening in spring. The brewery began hosting “Field Day” events on its large acre location to accommodate the current state of events this summer. In 2020, Iron Hill Brewery opened in Newtown, and two breweries along the Ale Trail added taprooms: Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. in the Ferry Market in New Hope (that is also looking for two new vendors!) and Naked Brewing Co. in Bristol Borough. Also, Geronimo Brewing and Moss Mill Brewing Co. began canning for the first time and Bucks County Brewery reopened under new ownership.
Bishop Estate Vineyard and Winery expands space to include The Barn Tasting Room. This brand-new tasting room will be located in their historic barn dating back to 1864. The winery already has two tasting rooms, the Cottage Tasting Room and the Stable Tasting area. The addition of the Barn Tasting Room, along with new outdoor seating and firepits, is Bishop Estate’s way of ensuring plenty of room to spread out guests and ensure safety. They are also releasing the Sisters’ Marquette Blush Wine. This is a beautiful dry wine with estate grown grapes, a descendant of the Pinot Noir grape. A portion of the proceeds will support local families in need.
Crossing Vineyards and Winery expands outdoor seating area. As a response to the increase in outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, Crossing Vineyards has expanded its outdoor seating capacity. The Washington Crossing winery can now accommodate more than 90 customers on their terraces and cottage patio. Visitors can also bring their own lawn chairs and social distance comfortably on their expansive grounds.
ART & ENTERTAINMENT
The African American Museum of Bucks County finds a permanent location. Currently a traveling exhibit, “Building on the Dream: From Africa to Bucks County,” the African American Museum of Bucks County (AAMBC) will locate to Boone Farm in Langhorne. The property is in the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the Great Migration in the early 20th century during which millions of African Americans moved up from the South to Northern states for economic opportunity.
Sesame Place Philadelphia opens for the first time in January, February and March. Sesame Place Philadelphia in Langhorne is giving guests more opportunities to safely visit the park in 2021. For the first time ever, Sesame Place will open in January, February, and March for two ALL-NEW events – Elmo’s Furry Fun Fest and Sesame Place’s 40th Birthday Drive-Thru! Elmo’s Furry Fun Fest (Saturdays & Sundays January 30 – March 21) will include a Neighborhood Birthday Party Parade, Elmo’s Party Balloon Scavenger Hunt and Furry Friends Dance Party, as well as s’mores and hot cocoa at the new family-friendly fire pits. The 40th Birthday Drive-Thru (Tuesdays & Wednesdays, January 26 – February 24) will include complimentary birthday hats, energetic music tracks and colorful birthday scenes. Additionally, the park will host their first-ever family-friendly Mardi Gras Celebration at the park.
The County Theater expects to officially reopen in March. In September 2019, the independent Doylestown theater founded in 1938 underwent a $5 million expansion project to build a new, larger lobby including bathrooms, a third auditorium for expanded programming and seat and box office upgrades to the current historic theater parts. The venue had intentions of doing a partial opening over summer 2020; however, due to the pandemic, they remained closed. This allowed the Theater to complete full construction five months ahead of schedule.
The Grand Reveal of the New Exhibit Case at the Grundy Museum opens in January. Spend Valentine’s Day at the Grundy Museum and “fall in love” with the new tour interpretations. The weekend of February 12-13 will be grand opening of the newly restored Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Museum.
Oscar Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Education Center receives funds from state to restore and preserve Highland Farm. The Museum will use the funding to purchase, restore, and preserve Oscar Hammerstein’s II former home and workplace at Highland Farm in Doylestown, PA. Though no finished date has been announced, the goal of the Museum is to create a multifaceted and dynamic museum experience, with a strong theatre education component, that will serve as a place of inspiration for Broadway fans and humanitarians alike, from Hammerstein’s backyard and across the world.
Mercer Museum showcases the interactive, family-friendly exhibit, “Measurement Rules.” Created by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, visitors will be able to explore different measurements of length, time, volume and weight in a variety of ways, including giant tape measures, treadmill odometers, bead tables, balance scales and more through summer 2021! A companion exhibit at the Mercer Museum will feature many rare and early examples of historical measuring instruments, drawn from the private collection of Bucks County residents Jim Hill and Kathy Hausman.
Bristol Riverside Theater kicks off the year virtually with “Singles in Agriculture.” On their last night together at the annual convention for “Singles in Agriculture,” a resilient young army widow who loves Modern Family and talks to her Pygmy goats, finds romance with a fundamentalist dairy farmer from Oklahoma. The LIVE online production written by Abby Rosebrock will be streamed January 26-30.
Portraits, sculptures and the Michener Art Museum all to yourself. Alongside virtual and in-person art classes for all ages, the Michener will feature several exhibits, including Through the Lens: Modern Photography in the Delaware Valley (opens Feb. 5), Essential Work 2020: A Community Portrait (opens March 19), and Sculpture with a Purpose: Women, Patronage, and Wharton Esherick, 1930-1945 (opens September 10). There is also a new way to observe the museum though Private Eyes. Private Eyes allows individuals or businesses to have the entire museum to themselves for a two-hour period. With only the Museum staff present, guests can explore the galleries with their “quarantine bubble.”
Bucks County Children’s Museum debuts “Where’s Your Hometown” kiosk exhibit. Housed in the children’s museum lobby, the interactive touchscreen “Where’s Your Hometown” exhibit will collect geographic information from visitors and display the amalgamated data in a creative and entertaining way. The exhibit will be open when the Children’s Museum opens. There is currently no date set due to COVID-19 precautions.
The return of festivals at Peddler’s Village. The outdoor shopping village boasting more than 65 shops, restaurants and more, hopes to introduce new celebrations, along with the originals we all know and love. As of now, you can look forward to Outdoor Murder Mystery Walking Tour, “Murder by Gaslight 2: The Murder of Emmeline” (February 13-May 30), PEEPs in the Village (March 31-April 11), Strawberry Festival (May 15-16), Summer Block Party Month (June), Fourth of July Barbeque (July 4), Bluegrass and Blueberries Month (July), Peach Festival and Sidewalk Sale (August 7-8), Scarecrows in the Village (September 6-October 30), OctoberFeast (October 16-17), Apple Festival (November 6-7), Grand Illumination (November 19), Gingerbread Competition and Display (November 19-January 8), Christmas Festival (December 4-5) and Village Food Truck Evenings (select dates June-October).
Celebrate George Washington’s birthday virtually. Washington Crossing Historic Park will be continuing their virtual lecture series and annual events such as George Washington’s Birthday Celebration in February will also be virtual. Check back on their website at WashingtonCrossingPark.org for upcoming events throughout the year!
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Quakertown’s Trolley Barn adds new vendors, live events and outdoor beauty. Quakertown’s 15,000 square foot Trolley Barn, a public market similar to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market that opened in 2019, has several projects in the works for this year. There will be a spring opening of Red Brick Mercantile, which will be a space for home good and crafts made by local artisans on a consignment basis. April will also see live events and activities – live music outside, public and private ticketed events and more. Demonstration Kitchen, a non-profit run, live-demo kitchen that will serve as an educational space for the local community on healthy eating and lifestyle, should open in the latter half of 2021. Additionally, more trees for shade will be added into The Yard outdoor pavilion for summer, a seafood concept is expected to open, and six office spaces will be made available for new tenants.
Share a little sweetness around Bucks County. The Bucks County Sweet Spots Trail, launched in 2019, has more than 40 locations, including bakeries, ice cream parlors, coffee roasters, chocolatiers and candy stores that neighbor family-friendly attractions and line the streets of Bucks County’s picturesque downtowns. Several 2021 additions are coming soon to the Trail, including Magic Arts Studio & Sweet Treats in Morrisville and Haasis Gluten-Free Bakery in Perkasie. Late 2020 additions included Lily’s Chocolate Paradise, Cowabunga Coffee Roasters, Mama Hawk’s Kitchen & Coffee (moved from the Ferry Market to Peddler’s Village), Pigadilly’s, The Hickory Stick and Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn. By checking in to five or more spots on the mobile passport, Sweet Spots travelers can receive a free Bucky plush.
Dining Deals and Gift Cards on VisitBucksCounty.com. The Visit Bucks County website is your resource for restaurant deals Find specials at restaurants and gift card ideas. While the restaurant industry struggles, the majority pivoting to take-out, several spots were able to have grand openings in 2020: Holy ‘Que Smokehouse in Lahaska, La La Lobster in Yardley, Le Macaron French Pastries, Omiza and Heirloom in Doylestown and Duck Donuts in Levittown.