First date to courting and beyond, tourism drives growth

PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN The PPL Center in Allentown: More than 15 million people visit the Lehigh Valley each year. The more people the region attracts, the better the chances that some of those visitors are potential investors and business owners.

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series, which runs monthly, written by Discover Lehigh Valley president Mike Stershic, on the economic importance of tourism in the Lehigh Valley.)

A few years ago, Oxford Economics, a national research firm, analyzed the connections between tourism and economic development, titled “Destination Promotion: An Engine of Economic Development.”

A major takeaway from the study was that a 10 percent increase in a destination’s visitor-related employment, relative to the U.S. average, tends to be followed by a 1.5 percent rise in broader employment.

There are more ways in which tourism and economic development relate.

Tourism is, on its own, economic development. Though many people do not consider it to be so.

But it should be, as tourism brings people and their hard-earned dollars into the region. In the case of Lehigh and Northampton counties, for example, tourism brings in more than $2.2 billion annually.

Here are four ways in which tourism and economic development relate – four among many other ways:

(1) As my friend Bill Geist, a destination marketing consultant and former executive at the Madison Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau, has so aptly put, tourism is the “first date” in economic development.

After all, what prospective developer and relocation executive would make a move without first visiting the place where they may be making a multimillion dollar investment?

All prospects are visitors first.

(2) When those prospects meet with economic development professionals, they generally put them up in a hotel and take them out to lunch or dinner. Usually, they are taken to one of our top restaurants or guided to one of our best hotels.

If they don’t have a great experience there, what will they think of the area?

The quality of the experience received likely will affect their decision. Who wants to live in a place where they are not treated well?

(3) The promotional work of a destination marketing organization such as Discover Lehigh Valley is done, primarily, outside the local area. We want to invite out-of-town visitors and their dollars into our economy.

The efforts are built toward developing both an awareness of the Lehigh Valley brand and the Valley as a destination for their leisure travel. The more that people are aware of our region from distant markets, the more likely we are to be “discovered” by prospects.

(4) Visitors are a diverse group, and we know that among them are business owners and executives. As we increase the number of visitors, likely we increase the opportunity for investment by potential investors and business owners.

The more people we are able to touch, the more chances we have to make a favorable impression and show them what we have to offer. This is a major reason why the quality of what we have to offer visitors is so important.


It is estimated that more than 15 million people visit the Lehigh Valley each year, and that number is growing.

Combined with the quality of the experiences that we have to offer visitors, we know that we have what it takes to attract decision makers here.

The more we attract, the better our chances.


My counterpart in Irving, Texas, Maura Gast, summed it up best in her inaugural address as the incoming chair of Destinations International:

“If you build a place where people want to visit, you’ll build a place where people want to live.

“If you build a place where people want to live, you’ll build a place where people want to work.

“If you build a place where people want to work, you’ll build a place where business has to be.

“If you build a place where business has to be, you’ll build a place where people have to visit.”

Think about the incredible changes in Lehigh Valley over the past decade or so. We are poised for success.

Since 2004, Mike Stershic has been president of Discover Lehigh Valley, the tourism promotion agency for Lehigh and Northampton counties. He will retire at the end of the year. He has more than 40 years of experience in the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors and has served on the boards of more than 20 organizations. He can be reached at mike@discoverlehighvalley.com or 610-882-9200.

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