Discover Lancaster to offer free travel to business meeting planners to increase corporate travel 

Ioannis Pashakis//March 3, 2022

Discover Lancaster to offer free travel to business meeting planners to increase corporate travel 

Ioannis Pashakis//March 3, 2022

A Southern Airways Express aircraft. PHOTO/PROVIDED

In an effort to bring more corporate travel to the region, Discover Lancaster has partnered with Lancaster Airport’s main commercial carrier to pay for round trip flights of qualified meeting planners from Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. 

Discover Lancaster announced this week that it will be offering free flights in partnership with Southern Airways Express through March and April to meeting and convention planners to visit and plan events throughout the county. 

The new program comes at a time where social and leisure travel has picked back up in Lancaster County, but corporate and business travel continues to lag, said Edward Harris, president and CEO of Discover Lancaster. 

Lodging revenue has bounced back dramatically with Lancaster County hotels earning an increased 28.6% in revenue in January 2022 compared to January 2019, according to Discover Lancaster. 

Those numbers can be attributed to leisure travel as well as sports travel, particularly for tournaments at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, the largest indoor sports complex of its kind in the country. 

Group travel, such as meetings and conventions, once made up for 40% of overnight stays in the county and currently rest at 16%. 

“We are actually among a handful of destinations that are ahead of the curve in terms of tourism returning to our destination,” said Harris. “Unfortunately, the corporate meeting groups dwindled during the pandemic. We were hit very hard, and they are just starting to show signs of returning.” 

Planners for corporate events, meetings and conventions generally plan their larger events within six months to a year and a half in advance, said Harris. By offering meeting planners in Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh free flights to Lancaster in the next two months, Lancaster’s hotels could begin to see a strong return in corporate groups later in 2022. 

This is particularly important for the region’s hotels, which generally rely on business visits for their weekday traffic and the off season. 

“Corporate visitors come between Sunday and Thursday night and in the fall spring and winter when kids are back at school. That isn’t when leisure travels,” said Stephen Sikking, general partner with the Eden Resort and Suites in Lancaster.  

Many of Eden’s offerings cater specifically to the corporate crowd. The hotel has seen a return to day meetings but has yet to see businesses plan two-to-three-day meetings where they would previously invite regional or national clients or employees for training purposes, said Sikking. 

Sikking added that he has heard from a number of companies that they are looking at returning to in-person meetings when their teams are comfortable travelling again. He said that the partnership between Southern Airways and Discover Lancaster could help organizations realize that the region is ready to go and open for business. 

“These groups would find this area enjoyable and practical and hopefully we can get some new eyes in the area and get some new business coming to the market,” said Sikking. “Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. are great corporate hubs. It will be a big lift for the entire market if we can get some new or existing businesses.” 

Discover Lancaster has rolled out the program through a digital marketing campaign that includes advertising on the websites of the Washington Business Journal and the Pittsburgh Business Times, targeted placements through Lancaster-based social media agency Click Upon and targeted e-blasts from Meetings Today to 2,000 planners in both cities. 

“Southern has been Lancaster’s ‘hometown’ airline for almost a decade and we’re excited to be involved in this initiative.  Our fast flights from Pittsburgh and Washington-Dulles will make it easy for meeting planners to ‘Discover Lancaster’ as the perfect destination for their next event,” said Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer at Southern Airways Express.