Betsey Howell knows business.
Specifically, she knows the business of tourism. The executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, Howell answered some questions about how small local businesses and tourism overlap.
Q: How important is small business to tourism in an area like Centre County?
A: Travel spending has a major impact on the overall economy in Centre County, from large businesses to small businesses. While the area boasts major attractions that are definitely on the radar for our visitors, many travelers are looking to experience things they don’t necessarily have back home, those things that we, as locals, take advantage of on a day-to-day basis.
They enjoy the museums and attractions that are unique to our area. They want to eat and shop at places they can’t find in their own backyard.
Centre County is fortunate in that we have a large variety of attractions, retail shops and dining opportunities to offer our visitors, along with boundless outdoor recreation.
One of our newest offerings is the Central PA Tasting Trail, made up of numerous small businesses in the area (wineries, breweries, distilleries, cideries) and piquing interest from a wide variety of travelers, including motor coach and meeting groups.
Another is Culinary Week, a celebration of our local restaurants and locally grown food over a one-week period in the summer. This year it will be June 22-28.
Q: Flipside, how important is tourism to small business?
A: Small businesses, such as our museums and attractions, do rely on tourism to help sustain them. For retailers and restaurants, tourism business is seen more as “bonus income,” especially during major events in the area such as football and the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
These businesses rely more on the local residents to help sustain their business on a day-to-day basis.
That being said, by bringing in outside dollars, the area benefits via a larger and more diverse mix of small businesses.
Q: In Centre County, we have our big tourism hub with Penn State and its sports and cultural draws, but we have so many small communities with their own personalities. How do those sides come together?
A: Part of the appeal for Centre County is that we have a major university that brings a variety of cultural and sporting events to the area, and, in turn, those activities attract both locals and visitors.
Our small communities leverage their relationship with Penn State. They are located within easy driving distance to State College and the university so they are sought out by visitors looking for more of a local experience.
Bellefonte, Philipsburg, Millheim, Boalsburg, etc. — each of these towns has unique offerings. Cultural and heritage tourism are growing, and our towns offer a diverse assortment in both these areas, plus a whole lot more.
The relationship has also strengthened entrepreneurship and business development. The majority of the businesses in our towns are owned by locals who need the support of not just visitors but residents, as well, if they are to continue to be successful.
Q: Staycations, where people don’t travel but take advantage of the things that locals sometimes ignore close to home, are becoming more popular. What would be a great week of staycation activities for someone to do over, say, spring break?
A: Staycations have been around for a while and are a great way for locals to experience what’s in their own backyard. Many times people forget that there is an abundance of activities within a short drive.
An example might be things to do locally over spring break — Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park; Lincoln Caverns; Woodward Cave; Indian Caverns; Discovery Space; Bellefonte Art Museum; Pennsylvania Military Museum; Green Drake Gallery, Tussey Mountain All Seasons; Penn State Arboretum, to name a few.
Our website is packed full of ideas.
Some people will even go as far as to book a hotel or B&B in their hometown, just to get away from it all without really having to travel.
And, when locals get out and experience the activities (dining, shopping, outdoor recreation, attractions) in their own community, they become even better ambassadors, with bragging rights on all there is to see and do in the area!