The Lehigh Valley often gets overlooked as a tourist destination. Longtime residents, for example, do not necessarily see the area as a place that holds significant value to tourists.
To be sure, it is common to hear about the surge of visitors to the Poconos, Hershey and Lancaster.
Yet, visitors to the Lehigh Valley each year spend $2.2 billion at hotels and attractions, eating at restaurants and participating in recreational activities, according to Mike Stershic, president of Discover Lehigh Valley in Allentown.
“The tourism industry generates $480 million in tax revenue, and that covers state, local and federal. That is a big deal,” said Stershic, whose agency promotes tourism in Lehigh and Northampton counties. “In addition, Lehigh and Northampton counties have been ranked in the top two in terms of counties for growth [in tourism] in Pennsylvania.”
Stershic said that most of the visitors – about 90 percent – venture to the Lehigh Valley from New York and New Jersey and other areas of Pennsylvania.
They plan a day trip to such places as Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, ArtsQuest, SteelStacks, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem and Sands Bethlehem Events Center, State Theatre, PPL Center and Crayola Experience.
They want to take in a concert or show and see one of the Valley’s arts or cultural venues, or watch a sporting event at a stadium or arena.
“What makes the Lehigh Valley special is that our attractions are not static. They are always changing and improving,” Stershic said. “About 24,750 jobs are sustained in the Lehigh Valley because of the tourism industry.”
QUALITY OF PLACE
Attractions and amenities to some degree can play a role in businesses locating to the Lehigh Valley.
Colin McEvoy, director of communications at Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. in Bethlehem, said companies look at a variety of factors before they move to the region.
“Quality of place is an increasingly important factor when it comes to attracting economic development,” McEvoy said. “Companies want to ensure their employees are living in a community with a high quality of life and wide variety of recreational opportunities.
“This is particularly important for millennial workers, who will make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020.”
McEvoy said tourism is a large component that drives the economy in the Lehigh Valley.
He said the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services sector makes up $1.57 billion of the Lehigh Valley’s $39.1 billion gross domestic product, which is the measure of total economic output.
“That’s roughly on par with other economic sectors of the Lehigh Valley, such as information ($1.9 billion) and transportation and warehousing ($1.87 billion),” McEvoy said.
At ArtsQuest, chief operating officer Curt Mosel said the nonprofit organization has a great effect on the Lehigh Valley economy. Each year, ArtsQuest brings Musikfest to the area, which draws 1 million-plus people, and smaller events such Christkindlmarkt, which has an attendance of 70,000.
“We do 4,000 programs annually, and 40 percent of them are free to attend,” Mosel said of the many concerts, festivals and cultural events that ArtsQuest offers.
The growth of venues, entertainment, art, culture and diversity has been attracting a younger generation of people – millennials, for example – and they are coming to live, work and play in the Lehigh Valley, Mosel said.
In 2010, ArtsQuest programs brought in $39 million, a number that now is $73 million, Mosel said.
“People are definitely moving to the Lehigh Valley, not just touring,” he said.
Stershic said the Lehigh Valley provides a lot opportunity for people of all ages.
“Exposure is important. People love our events calendar on the Discover Lehigh Valley website. It tells them what’s going on and where,” Stershic said. “We are constantly striving to do better to deliver and promote quality of life.”