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Report: Disband Lebanon County Tourism Promotion Agency, install new one

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A Lebanon County-commissioned tourism report released Wednesday calls for the removal of the current Lebanon County Tourism Promotion Agency and the formation of a new one.

The report strongly criticized the current agency, and Chris Barrett of Swatara Township-based Target Media said he received little cooperation from the agency when preparing the report.

Barrett, Target's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the agency's website "should have been rebuilt five years ago" and the agency should already have formed partnerships with tourism agencies from both Lancaster and Hershey.

Lebanon County is the bridge between the two popular tourist destinations, he said.

"I know I tried to do it when I was in Lancaster," said Barrett, who was president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau for seven years. "So I know they want to do it."

The report was commissioned as an analysis of problems and opportunities for tourism in the county.

Dennis Grumbine, CEO at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center and the tourism agency and who attended the presentation, took issue with the report. He and Barrett publicly traded accusations of missed meetings and emails, the lack of cooperation on each side and the methods of a damning survey in the report.

The survey said nearly 50 percent of county residents and business people did not know the tourism agency existed and almost 85 percent of them never used its website. Barrett said one of the most concerning statistics was that 82 percent of respondents had not taken a mini-vacation in the county.

Grumbine asked the commissioners for some extra time to respond in writing to the report because he had just received the information at the presentation.

The report recommended that the agency be removed from operation of the Lebanon Valley Expo Center, that a new agency be established with a board of directors from agency membership, and that an "overall branding research and establishment process" begin immediately.

It also said all website development should stop until the new agency is established.

Barrett's report to the Lebanon County commissioners was one of two tourism-related presentations Wednesday.

William Owens, principal at Owens Economics LLC in Virginia, gave his county-commissioned report on the economic impact of the expo center that showed the county lost more than $1.4 million in economic impact of tourism dollars in 2013 because some people who came to the expo center could not find a hotel room in the county.

The report claims the county had only 400 hotel rooms, but county, hotel and tourism officials at the presentation pegged the number closer to 600 and questioned how Owens came up his number.

If the number is closer to 600, Owens agreed the economic impact loss would be reduced, but he didn't know by how much.

He said about 120,000 people visited the expo center in 2013, and he called it a "successful, multifaceted" facility that was "very well-managed."

Commissioners approved payment of $26,000 for Target Media's study and $13,000 for the expo center report. Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said the commissioners would take no action on the reports Wednesday but could act on them in the future.

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