Opinion

Centre tourism insights: Enhanced efforts will better position the county as a destination

The Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau (CPCVB) is entering an exciting phase, with new staff members and more specialized focus for our entire team, along with new collaborative initiatives and a major re-branding campaign designed to elevate the county as a destination for leisure and business travelers.

Attracting more first-time visitors, soliciting meetings and sporting events, and encouraging repeat travelers is the CPCVB’s primary organizational mission for one important reason – tourism provides myriad economic benefits for our local communities and residents. From employment and new business opportunities in the hospitality industry to the generation of tax revenue that helps municipalities fund public services, visitor dollars strengthen and grow the economy.

In short, boosting tourism promotion makes good economic sense.

It goes without saying that there are certain times of the year when visitation is already robust. On football weekends, when more than 100,000 Nittany Lion football fans fill Beaver Stadium, turning State College into the anecdotal “fourth-largest city in the state,” our hotels are full and our restaurants are bustling.

Large-scale events such as the popular 4th Fest, Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, People’s Choice and Phillipsburg Heritage Days also bring tens of thousands of visitors into the county annually.

It is the non-football/non-major event weekends, and the slower months such as February and March – the weakest for travel to Centre County, according to our research – where opportunity exists.

The CPCVB plans to focus greater energy and resources on attracting more weekday visitors, as hotel occupancy Sundays through Thursdays tends to lag weekend occupancy rates. Mid-size conferences and large business meetings can help fill this gap. As an example, CPCVB Director of Sales and Marketing Dave Gerdes recently attended gatherings of military reunion planners and eSports industry enthusiasts in an effort to find new opportunities with these visitor segments. Searching out these opportunities is a priority for the CPCVB sales team, with a goal of achieving hotel occupancy rates that are consistently strong across the board.

Finally, the CPCVB’s marketing efforts will be focused on encouraging longer stays in the destination. According to a CPCVB commissioned study by D.K. Shifflet & Associates, a tourism and travel research firm, visitors to Centre County stay slightly shorter than travelers to the average U.S. destination. Half of visitors studied between 2016-18 were day trippers, followed by just 21 percent staying two nights. Turning day trips to popular destinations such as Penns Cave or The Arboretum at Penn State into overnight or two-night stays will result in the coveted “heads in beds” goal.

Underscoring all of this activity is the re-branding of the destination itself. There is a lot of excitement within the community about what could be possible by creating a new identity that resonates with travelers and best tells Centre County’s story as a wonderful place to visit.

Fritz Smith is president and CEO of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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