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Central Pa. tourist bureaus eye greater collaboration to attract foreign visitors

International travelers have developed a growing appetite for midstate destinations, yet collaborative regional marketing efforts to build momentum overseas have never really been undertaken.

Now, a national initiative called Brand USA is spurring coordination between the state tourism office and conventions and visitors bureaus in Harrisburg, Gettysburg, Lancaster, the Poconos and the Philadelphia region.

Brand USA was created by the U.S. Travel Association in 2010 to spearhead international marketing efforts through digital channels.

Regional videos were recently produced to attract visitors from the United Kingdom. And last week, the state and regional visitors bureaus met in Harrisburg to discuss ongoing collaboration, including joint sales missions to top foreign markets.

The United Kingdom and China have been highlighted for mission trips.

The goal: To grow overnight visits, which means greater hotel tax revenue to promote the region.

Amish attraction

The Amish, Pennsylvania Dutch dining and local heritage sites generate the most buzz among international travelers seeking the Lancaster County experience, according to Discover Lancaster.

The top 10 markets for consumer spending generated $7.8 million last year, according to Visa data. In 2009, the top 10 markets accounted for about $5.3 million.

In 2014, the top 10 markets sending tourists to Lancaster County were Canada, China, Puerto Rico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Brazil and Spain.

In Lancaster County, tourists visiting from the top 10 foreign markets posted a nearly 49 percent increase in spending from 2009 to 2014, according to Joel Cliff, a spokesman for Discover Lancaster, citing VisaVue Travel data. Those markets generated more than $7.8 million last year.

China, a key market for many regional visitors bureaus, accounted for about one-third of that growth.

“China for us, as recently as 2008, wasn’t in the top 10,” Cliff said. “By 2010, it was seventh. It’s been No. 2 since.”

Biggest bang

Array

The Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau, which hosted the meeting last week, has been working with a Chinese tour operator, China Ocean and Outback Tour, to coordinate multiday itineraries connected to Hershey as part of a broader East Coast travel package. Group tours could reach Hershey next year.

Growing hospitality: Dauphin County hotel tax revenue

Dauphin County increased its hotel room tax to 5 percent from 3 percent in March 2008. Room tax revenue has steadily grown since the increase, including nearly 10 percent last year, according to the county.

Convention and visitors bureaus receive a piece of the hotel tax revenue to fund a big portion of their annual operating budgets.

The Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau, for example, received more than $2.1 million from the Dauphin County hotel tax in 2014-15. That was 76 percent of its budget.

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