As the Lehigh Valley continues a period of rapid development, community organizations in the area are working to attract tourists, families and businesses to the region.
Nearly 17 million people visited the Lehigh Valley in 2018, and tourism generated nearly $2 billion in revenue for the region that year, according to Discover Lehigh Valley’s 2018-19 Annual Report.
Additionally, the Lehigh Valley was ranked one of the top five regions for economic development in the Northeast in 2018.
An area that once attracted steelworkers now draws visitors, businesses and families.
Discover Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit destination-marketing organization, focuses on promoting the region’s attractions including its events, restaurants, sports and festivals to visitors.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), on the other hand, promotes the Valley’s economic assets and aims to bring businesses and employees to the area.
Michael Keller, the director of marketing for LVEDC, previously worked for Discover Lehigh Valley when he first moved to the area almost nine years ago. He said much of the two organization’s marketing efforts align.
Keller said LVEDC’s marketing traditionally focused on the reasons why businesses would relocate to the region, such as the Lehigh Valley’s infrastructure, its cost competitiveness to other markets and skilled labor.
Though LVEDC markets primarily to businesses, Keller said companies still need to know their employees are going to be happy and have things to do in the place they’re working.
“All of the things that tie into a good quality of life are also really important for employers to know, because retention of employees is just as important as attracting employees to their company,” he said.
LVEDC and Discover Lehigh Valley collaborated on the “Made Possible” marketing campaign, which launched in March 2019.
Keller said the campaign blends economic development marketing and tourism marketing.
“We are trying to convince people that, yes, (the Lehigh Valley is) a wonderful place to visit,” he said. “(The Lehigh Valley is) also a great place to work, to raise your family, to have a career and enjoy a good quality of life.”
In addition to LVEDC and Discover Lehigh Valley, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce will soon become incorporated in the “Made Possible” campaign, Keller said, to create an alliance of the three organizations.
Angela DelGrosso, the senior vice president of the Bethlehem Chamber at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said due to its size, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce — the sixth largest in the nation — markets the area with Discover Lehigh Valley.
Discover Lehigh Valley, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, and Lehigh and Northampton counties share a hotel tax collected in the region to benefit grant money for tourism-focused initiatives. Visitors who stay overnight in a hotel pay a 4 percent visitor tax on hotel rooms, said Denise Maiatico, the vice president of Lehigh Valley Properties at Meyer Jabara Hotels.
Hotel occupancy has steadily increased over the past 10 years, she said, beginning with 58.1 percent of hotel rooms occupied each night in 2009 and reaching an average of 78 percent occupancy in 2019.
Hotel occupancy funds both the Lehigh Valley marketing associations and the local economy. According to the Annual Report, the average person spent $121 on overnight trips — more than double the $52 the average person spent on day trips in the Lehigh Valley.
Though only 32 percent of visitors spent the night in the Lehigh Valley in 2018, this figure is up 6.1 percent from the proportion of overnight trips in 2017.
“We know that the more people are exposed to a region, the more they repeat visit that region,” Maiatico said. “So it’s important that we expose people to what they can do while they’re here.”
Marketing efforts, such as the “Made Possible” campaign, continue to grow.
Keller said “Made Possible” launched a new version of its website, which features individual stories of Lehigh Valley community members.
“We’re building a library of stories to get in front of different people with different perspectives,” he said.
“Made Possible” was also responsible for the “Stay for the Encore” campaign during Musikfest this year, which highlighted Bethlehem and Lehigh Valley attractions outside of the festival. The messaging, visible on billboards, Instagram and geotargeted banner display advertisements, encouraged visitors to learn more about the region and potentially return to the Lehigh Valley.
“We knew with all the people in town for Musikfest that we could pepper the area with billboards and subtle digital messages that they’re here for Musikfest – the food, the concerts, the bands – but here’s our small towns, our farmers’ markets, our outdoors,” said Alicia Quinn, the vice president of marketing and strategic alliances for Discover Lehigh Valley. “(We want people to) ‘Stay for the Encore,’ stay the next day and check out one of these other experiences.”
The Annual Report shows 35 percent of people who visited the Lehigh Valley in 2018 were influenced by marketing efforts, compared to the 46 percent who came to visit friends or relatives and 19 percent who came for business or business-leisure.
Quinn said a part of Discover Lehigh Valley’s mission is to be a resource to empower community members to show their friends and families what to do and what’s happening in the Lehigh Valley.
Having previously worked for VISIT PHILADELPHIA, Quinn said Philadelphia did a good job of creating ambassadors of the city.
“People are really proud to say they’re from Philly (or that they went to school in Philadelphia) — and I think we’re starting to see more and more of that here in the (Lehigh) Valley,” she said. “I don’t know (if) that was that strong before, but I think we’re starting to inspire people to be excited about this place where they live, work and play.”