By Fritz Smith
Tourism provides substantial economic benefits for Centre County, its local communities and residents. From employment and new business opportunities in the hospitality, attractions, dining and related industries to the generation of tax revenue that helps municipalities fund public services and infrastructure, visitor dollars strengthen and grow the economy. In 2017 alone, leisure and business visitors spent $794.2 million in Centre County, nearly $46 million more than the year prior, according to Tourism Economics.
The recent rebranding of Centre County’s tourism promotion agency to The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, combined with the launch this year of a robust, business-to-consumer and business-to-business destination marketing campaign, reflect strategic commitments to grow leisure and business visitation to Happy Valley. The anticipated result will be even greater economic gains for the hospitality industry, including stronger year-over-year hotel occupancy rates and gains for the county as a whole.
The HVAB’s energized mission is focused on four main goals: converting day trip visitors to overnight stays; extending visitor stays to enhance incremental overnight visitation and revenue; increasing occupancy during midweek and November-March need periods; and influencing the long-term development of the destination and its brand.
A multi-platform campaign that launched in January with an ad in The Penn Stater alumni magazine will target what research has identified as Centre County’s top feeder markets, notably New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC, as well as road-trippers within a three- to five-hour driving distance from Happy Valley. Lapsed Penn State alumni are a viable audience within these markets.
It should be noted as well that Allegiant’s recent addition of non-stop flights to and from Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg to University Park Airport opens up new feeder markets for business and leisure travelers.
The outlook for visitation is also energized by the breadth of dynamic hospitality assets that are new for 2020 or that are in the works.
Our lodging options are expanding, with the recent opening of Philipsburg’s We Are Inn across from picturesque Cold Stream Dam, and the eventual opening of the Holiday Inn near State College, among other planned lodging facilities.
Ground will soon be broken for the highly anticipated Bellefonte Waterfront project, which will bring a boutique hotel, restaurant, condos, retail space and parking to the historic community’s vibrant and beautiful waterfront. Adding to that project is the welcomed renovation and planned reopening of the Gamble Mill, which will feature a restaurant and pub, short-term suites and retail space.
Nearby Axemann Brewery will be the latest addition to Centre County’s dynamic craft beverage scene when it opens its doors in late March/early April. The brewery will also create unique event space offerings to add to our current mix.
Centre County’s extensive outdoor opportunities will be enriched by the pending Harvest Fields Community Trail System, which will transform a 100-acre property on the edge of Rothrock State Forest into new trail opportunities for mountain bikers of all skill levels, from novice to seasoned.
These are just a few examples of new attractions that, when combined with our already memorable and plentiful assets, will give even more people reasons to plan their next leisure or business adventure in Happy Valley.
Fritz Smith is president and CEO of The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.