By Holly Riddle
The tourism industry is hot in Happy Valley, as we covered in a recent article. Behind the big events like Penn State Football and the Ironman 70.3 Pennsylvania Happy Valley Triathlon and the organizations who plan them — Penn State, The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and the Happy Valley Sports & Entertainment Alliance — are the smaller businesses that make up the fabric of the area’s hospitality industry. These local attractions, accommodations, restaurants and other small businesses are putting in the work to help lure visitors here and to give them the best possible experience, so they want to return year after year.
Attractions expanding visitor reach
Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art is poised to make a significant contribution to attracting visitors to the area. The museum, which typically sees about 30,000 visitors each year, is currently closed to the public while its new facility at the Arboretum is underway. Expected to open in late spring 2024, the Palmer will join forces with the Arboretum to create a cultural destination at Penn State with the potential to draw 225,000-plus visitors per year. Visitor survey data from 2022 revealed that at least 60% of visitors to the Palmer Museum identified as “out-of-towners” or visited the museum with someone from out of town.
Across the county, Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park welcomes approximately 140,000 guests annually, with the majority of guests traveling from within a 150-mile radius; these visitors go on to patronize Happy Valley hotels, restaurants and shops.
“As America’s only all-water cavern and wildlife park located near Penn State University, Penn’s Cave assists in drawing guests to this area, in addition to providing entertainment to those guests that came to this area for other reasons,” said Jeanine Watson, executive business director at Penn’s Cave. “Penn’s Cave contributes to other regional business offerings that, collectively, encourage guests to stay overnight in our area, thereby supporting hotels, restaurants and other stores and businesses while they are here.”
The Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail is another example of a smaller organization within the Happy Valley tourism industry that helps to spread visitors and their dollars across the region, directing them to breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries located throughout the county — and, its reach is growing.
According to Celesta Powell, managing director, “We sold 985 [trail] passports in 2022. We have had significant sales growth each year and anticipate an increase this year as well… The tasting trail provides an opportunity for people to see businesses of Centre County in a great, symbiotic way. You traverse the county [and] get to see a new business and try great products (all of our trail members must produce locally). I always tell people a [Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail] passport is the best way to see Centre County.”
Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art is poised to make a significant contribution to attracting visitors to the area.
Locals as ambassadors
As local small businesses do their part to support the Happy Valley tourism economy, they also recognize the critical role residents play in helping to market the area and its attractions.
Dave Gerdes, vice president of sales and marketing at The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau said, “The residents are very important to us, not only as consumers, but also as ambassadors. We want them to go out and be proud of their community, and invite family and friends [to travel here]… There’s a lot to do here and it crosses all interests.”
He added that spreading the word about Happy Valley is particularly important in a state like Pennsylvania that offers a broad array of opportunities for visitors:
“It’s very competitive in the Pennsylvania tourism landscape. It’s noisy… but it appears that we’re on a record pace for tourism and visitation this calendar year… It’s an exciting time to be in tourism in Happy Valley.”