Opinion

What’s in a name? CPCVB looks to craft a destination identity that resonates with visitors

Tourism produces a ripple effect that has myriad economic benefits for our county and the region. Tourism supports job creation and business growth in the lodging, restaurant and retail industries; overnight stays generate tax revenue that local municipalities use to help fund public services. Creating a place that people want to visit can, in turn, create a place that is more attractive to people and businesses that are considering living and locating here.

Realizing the full potential of this multiplier effect is a goal of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau. Better positioning Centre County as a tourism destination will help achieve this desired outcome.

The recent increase in the Centre County lodging tax – paid by guests staying in county hotels and Airbnbs – places the CPCVB in a position to proceed with a needed brand refresh aimed at attracting more visitors. The effort is necessary to remain continually appealing to new generations of tourists, meeting and sporting event attendees, and to effectively define our area and showcase all that Centre County offers as a desirable destination.

During football season, it is clear who WE ARE. However, Centre County is more than Penn State football; that’s where confusion sets in. The current Visit Penn State URL doesn’t effectively convey that Centre County is more than just a university town. When people hear “central Pennsylvania,” they think of Harrisburg, Hershey and Lancaster. Though geographically incorrect, perception is reality, and that has to be addressed. Our destination and organization brand must be easily understood and recognized by potential visitors.

There are three key factors that will be essential to creating that memorable, clearly defined and genuine brand.

First is to know our audience. Research has shown that key markets are New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg/Lancaster and Washington, D.C. — metropolitan areas where the desire to easily “get away from it all” is strong. Of course, Penn State alumni are a key audience as well; we want more to visit here outside of football season.

In an effort to even better understand the profile and demographics of the Centre County visitor, the CPCVB has engaged the Penn State Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management Department to conduct a comprehensive intercept survey over the course of the next year at locations and establishments that host a significant number of visitors.

We also need to think with a destination mindset, resisting the urge to base decisions on our likes and dislikes, and experiences. Rather, we need to rely on what research and data tells us about what visitors find appealing. More and more, travelers are looking for experiences that are unique and authentic. We certainly have that here; we just need to better tell the story.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, community support and buy in are a must.

Centre County has many towns, villages and valleys, each with distinctive identities and offerings. Our destination identity must capture all in one impactful message. As a collective community, business, academic and government leaders, hospitality industry workers and residents also have to deliver on that brand identity. It is a collaborative effort!

These are exciting times for tourism promotion in Centre County. In crafting an identity that resonates with visitors and is embraced by the community, tourism is poised to generate even greater economic benefits for our region of central Pennsylvania.

Fritz Smith is Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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