Opinion Columns & Blogs

Centre tourism insights: Who are Centre County visitors and where are they coming from?

Travelers today not only have greater access to information about where to go, thanks to the internet and social media, they have more sources – both traditional and nontraditional – from which to vet a potential destination than ever before. At the same time, generational differences are redefining the vacation experience and destination decisions. This all means that crafting tourism promotion messaging that motivates potential visitors to choose Centre County as a destination requires us to not only know, but understand, our target market.

For the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau, solid research is essential to learning all we can about current and potential future visitors.

Through studies commissioned by the CPCVB, we know that the county saw an increase in Generation X and baby boomer travelers from 2016-18 compared to the 2013-15 timeframe, and a slight decrease in millennials – a visitor demographic the CPCVB very much wants to attract.

We know that top out-of-state feeder markets are New Jersey, New York and Maryland; and top in-state visitor home locations include Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Our “day’s drive” location is a selling point.

Research also offers us valuable insights into travel trends. For example, we know that millennials in particular desire authentic experiences that immerse them into the destination, be it outdoor recreation, unique culinary offerings, or arts and culture. Safety – a consistent strength for Centre County – is a concern, and they desire giving back to the communities they visit. Millennials are also less inclined than baby boomers and GenXers to take the traditional one-week or two-week vacation, opting for weekend getaways or long weekend trips.

Technology is also helping the CPCVB understand consumer behavior.

The CPCVB recently signed an agreement to be a beta program for location-based analytics company AirSage and its new Destination Platform. AirSage uses anonymous GPS tracking of cellphones that enter the market to find out who visits the destination, how long they stay and what points of interest the visit within the destination.

This location intelligence data, when partnered with other programs and research, is valuable in determining where to best place tourism promotion marketing dollars moving forward.

Even with all the technological tools available to destination marketing organizations today, there is still tremendous value to “boots on the ground” visitor outreach.

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, Park and Tourism Management Department to conduct a comprehensive visitor intercept survey project over the course of a year.

The surveying began May 31. To date, project researchers have been to downtown State College, downtown Bellefonte, downtown Millheim, the Penn State Berkey Creamery, The Arboretum at Penn State, Tussey Mountain, Happy Valley Music Fest, the Outdoor Adventure Expo, Father’s Day weekend events in Bellefonte, Central PA 4th Fest, the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the People’s Choice Festival and Philipsburg Heritage Days.

Project researchers will also be surveying visitors at hotels, additional attractions, and special events, such as Grange Fair. The data collected is another avenue for uncovering areas of opportunity and assisting with formulating marketing strategies. The information gleaned will enable the CPCVB to have an ongoing evaluation of tourism trends and identify potential growth markets or market segments.

It is important for the CPCVB to know our potential visitors, what motivates their travel decisions and what they want from a getaway so that we can effectively and memorably convey to them why Centre County should be their destination of choice!

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