Lancaster’s tourism industry increases, new events planned for 2023

When it comes to tourism and travel, everything is coming up (red) roses for Lancaster County in 2023. 

Lancaster’s tourism continues to grow, boosting the local workforce and continuing the industry’s rebound from the pandemic, Discover Lancaster stated in its 2022 tourism economic report. 

“It’s great to see that Lancaster County tourism continued to grow even more last year, off a solid 2021,” Edward Harris, president/CEO of Discover Lancaster, said in a statement.

“Leisure travel kept increasing in 2022, making our overall visitation numbers higher than pre-pandemic 2019 levels for the second year in a row.  We also made further gains in restoring both group travel and the workforce that sustains our industry and allows it to make such a major contribution to the area’s economy.”

The county’s official destination marketing organization, Discover Lancaster announced along with its tourism report the introduction of the Lancaster County Ice Cream Trail. The mobile-based trail runs through Sept. 30 and represents one of Lancaster’s new tourism attractions for this year. 

The trail includes 25 stops and trail users are eligible for store discounts and can redeem points for merchandise. 

Discover Lancaster is also promoting the following: 

  • Lancaster Electric Bicycle Tour from Unique Lancaster Experiences. 
  • River tours on Susquehanna National Heritage Area’s new historic electric boat. 
  • Enola Low Grade multi-use trail. 
  • Route and equipment upgrades made to Lititz Bikeworks’ bike share offering on the Warwick-Ephrata Rail Trail. 
  • Dutch Wonderland’s 60th anniversary season, which features a new ride and entertainment. 
  • Sight & Sound Theatres’ production of “Moses”, which is returning after nine years. 
  • Dining & retail spots in Lancaster City, including Proof Lancaster, 401 Prime, and A Concrete Rose. 
  • Eden Resort & Suites’ new Bistro 2two2 dining and a second pool and cabanas rentals. 
  • Lancaster Science Factory’s new Sky Bridge – 35 climber panels reaching to 25 feet high. 
  • Kitchen Kettle Village’s new and expanded stores. 
  • Bird-in-Hand’s Artisan Village.


The tourism report was conducted by the analysis firm Tourism Economics and notes that in 2022, an estimated 9.77 million visitors to Lancaster County spent $2.45 billion. Those figures represented respective gains of 7.1% and 15.5% over 2021.

In addition, 24,481 county jobs, including 15,996 direct industry jobs, were supported by visitor spending.  Both totals grew by nearly 6% last year and kept tourism in the Top 10 largest non-agriculture private sector employers in the county.

Discover Lancaster helping accelerate county’s rebound in tourism

Discover Lancaster enjoyed a record year for tourism in 2022. Now, Lancaster County’s official Destination Marketing Organization is eyeing an even more prosperous 2023. 

“Our mission is to inspire people to visit and discover Lancaster,” said Discover Lancaster President and CEO Edward Harris. “Our primary focus is attracting people to visit here. Our team has been focusing on ways more recently to also improve the visitor experience when they get here.” 

One way is the leveraging of technology to make it easier for visitors to experience everything Lancaster County has to offer. Harris said there are three ways Discover Lancaster is doing that. 

The first is the rolling out of a mobile-based ice cream trail soon that will reward visitors points through their smart phones when they visit over 35 ice cream places across Lancaster County, said. The layer of “gamification” allows points to be redeemed at Discover Lancaster’s visitor center for branded Lancaster merchandise. The mobile ice cream trail is a follow up to Discover Lancaster’s coffee trail that proved popular last fall. 

“Just making the visitor experience easier to get around Lancaster County and using their phone to discover different towns and ice cream places, which we have a lot of in Lancaster County,” Harris said. 

The second way involves introducing this summer a Discover Lancaster streaming channel which is going to be live on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. The channel will highlight restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and attractions across Lancaster County with up to an hour of video content. 

“From the mobile-bases trails to being able to stream a channel and watch it either on your TV or your laptop,” said Harris, “those are two ways we’re using technology to make it a better experience for our visitors.” 

A third way is the recent upgrading of Discover Lancaster’s website to make it ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant. Harris said the site now offers people with visual impairments to experience DiscoverLancaster.com and plan their travel to Lancaster. 

“Those three things on a technology front for our company are going to help us make the visitor experience this year better than it has been in the past,” Harris said. “That’s what’s new and fresh in terms of what our organization is rolling out in the first part of this year.” 

Lancaster County business anniversaries this year include Dutch Wonderland’s 60th anniversary in May and the National Association of Watch & Clock Collector’s 80th anniversary in July. 

Harris said Dutch Wonderland is celebrating its milestone with the offering a new ride when the amusement park opens in April. He added that the return of Moses at Sight & Sound Theatres has been popular since its debut on March 10, ticket sales being brisk and ahead of projected ticket sales for year already. 

“It’s very encouraging from a tourism standpoint,” Harris stated, “to have Dutch Wonderland introducing something new and Sight & Sound Theatre bringing back a show that was popular years ago and doing really well out of the gate.” 

Harris said Discover Lancaster’s increased investment in marketing in 2021-22 in New York, Long Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Hartford, and Wilmington combined with leisure demand created by the pandemic led to significant website traffic for DiscoverLancaster.com. The traffic increased by more than 20%, with many visitors opting to visit Lancaster. 

Hotels reported a revenue increase of 25% over 2021, and Harris said Lancaster’s reputation for having “open spaces” and providing “good value” played to the area’s advantage. 

What’s particularly encouraging is that our visitor growth is broad-based across demographics. In addition to being nationally recognized as a top-rated place to retire, we’ve emerged as a top destination for remote workers who initially chose to visit Lancaster,” Harris said. 

“Thousands of families also visit Lancaster County each year for the first time with kid’s teams competing in large scale tournaments at Spooky Nook and they ultimately discover things to do in our area. Our social media channels from Instagram to Facebook to LinkedIn and TikTok all continue to grow and attract new groups every day.” 

Also proving valuable is the positive publicity Lancaster County receives from the national media. Harris noted that three separate Number One national rankings put a spotlight on the high quality of life in Lancaster: 

  • US News & World Report listed Lancaster for the first time as the Number One place to retire, ahead of several popular Florida destinations. 
  • Real estate website Ownerly ranked Lancaster as America’s Number One city for remote workers. 
  • WalletHub called Lancaster the Best small city in America. 

In addition, national articles about Lancaster’s Rock Lititz, which appeared in Rolling Stone magazine last fall, are shifting what Harris said are “long-standing perceptions about what’s happening in Lancaster.”

Harris said the combination of national recognition with the marketing campaigns in major markets that are within a three-hour drive helps attract tourism and additional dollars into the local economy.

Harris added that Discover Lancaster’s visitor center has added new art in its gallery, new vendors in its retail shop, and will this summer reopen its 60-seat theatre and introduce a new film highlighting things to do in Lancaster year-round.

To gain additional traction in the tourism industry, Discover Lancaster is working with additional influencers on social media to help expand the organization’s reach and testing advertising on the sides of cars in new markets through campaigns with Carvertise.

This spring and summer Discover Lancaster will be highlighting its outdoor adventure opportunities, including the Enola Low grade trail biking and hiking along with the new “Chief Uncas” boat tour experience in the Susquehanna National Heritage Area.

Next fall will see Discover Lancaster bring back restaurant week in partnership with the Lancaster Farmland Trust and promote the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in October.

Harris said that during the pandemic, tourists had time to think about where to plan their next trip, and for millions of people living in nearby metro areas, they decided to visit areas that offered open space, affordable prices, and outdoor recreational opportunities like hiking, biking, and hot air balloon rides.

Lancaster County is a destination that, Harris said, “checked all of those boxes.”

New tourism trail targets coffee drinkers

Cafe One Eight at 18 W Orange St, Lancaster, is one of 21 coffee shops on the Discover Lancaster Coffee Trail. PHOTO/CAFE ONE EIGHT

Discover Lancaster is rolling out a new initiative that puts coffee drinkers on the road to Lancaster County coffee shops.

Some 20 unique coffee shops, in fact, are spread across Lancaster County and reach from Lancaster City to Ephrata.

“The rollout comes at a time when tourism has traditionally seen an uptick in out-of-town visitors arriving for the popular fall harvest season,” said Ed Harris, President & CEO of Discover Lancaster. “This is one more fun activity to add to a jam-packed itinerary to enhance the visitor experience. There’s plenty of options to find a great coffee and pumpkin-spiced latte.”

Developed in partnership with Bandwango, the Discover Lancaster Coffee Trail is the first in a series of themed trails to be rolled out in future seasons to enhance the visitor experience. Harris said the mobile passport offers a curated collection of coffee shops in Lancaster, as well as exclusive deals and discounts to favorite local coffee spots.

“From Lancaster City, to Intercourse, to Ephrata, and everywhere in between,” said Harris, “there’s a wide range of unique coffee shop experiences that can be found in our towns across Lancaster County.”

The list of participating shops on the Coffee Trail include:

Aura Espresso Room; Bird-in-hand Bakery & Cafe; Butter & Bean; Cafe 301; Cafe Arabella; Cafe One Eight; Coffee Co – Lancaster; Copper Cup; Courtyard Cafe on Main; Hudson Botanical; Javteas Gourmet Coffee Cafe; La Mattina Caffe; Mill 72 Bake Shop & Cafe; Passenger Coffee & Tea; Prince Street Cafe; Rachel’s Cafe & Creperie; September Farm Cheese; Speckled Hen Coffee; Square One Coffee Roasters; The Houston Co. Cafe; and The Roasted Rooster

“Our new mobile-based coffee trail highlights the many small businesses who have poured everything they have into opening the coffee shop of their dreams,” Harris said.

Visitors to the participating coffee shops can check-in digitally at each stop to count towards their prize. After 5 stops visitors earn a Discover Lancaster Sticker & Coaster. After 10 stops, a Discover Lancaster Coffee Mug. A Discover Lancaster Canvas Bag is earned after 15 stops. Prizes can be redeemed at Discover Lancaster visitors center.

“This is an invitation to celebrate Lancaster and bring more business to our small businesses,” said Harris. “Our mission is to educate people about what’s in our back yard. We have expectations for an ice cream trail, a brewery trail. We’re excited to roll this out and test it.”

A struggling tourism industry is fighting back

It’s not hyperbole to say the coronavirus has brutalized the tourism industry.

Stay-at-home orders, canceled conventions and similar events have left hotels empty. It’s also meant a drastic reduction in hotel taxes used to support tourism. One group, Visit Hershey & Harrisburg, estimated more than $225 million in losses so far.

Industry leaders have undergone a variety of changes to cope with the reduction in revenue, from laying off staff to promoting activities that align with the changing needs of the COVID-conscious traveler.

Discover Lancaster

Ed Harris, President and CEO at Discover Lancaster, said lodging is down 40% and attraction visitation is 50%, but CARES Act funding has been a tremendous help. 

“We received two CARES Act grants—one in July for $815,000 for a marketing campaign in August and September, which helped build back some business through the late summer and early-to-mid fall. In late October, we received another $500,000 for a marketing campaign that will see us through to the end of the year,” said Harris.

The campaigns focused on an ‘open and safe’ message to attract visitors to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Tourism affects a number of industries and Discover Lancaster’s goal is to continue to support the local business community through promotional events such as Lancaster City restaurant week and an RV show at the Clipper Magazine Stadium. In February, the group is promoting the Lititz Ice Walk (Feb. 12-20), which will replace the annual Fire & Ice event. The ice walk will run for nine days to spread out the foot traffic, he said.

Discover Lancaster is promoting outdoor activities to attract visitors, such as the Lititz Ice Walk next month.

But the industry is still facing an uphill battle for the immediate future. “As we head into the New Year, we will be stressing things like buggy rides, winter hiking, the Wolf Sanctuary and cozy bed and breakfasts. And we will also be encouraging people to explore their own backyards,” said Harris. 

Visit Cumberland Valley

Aaron Jumper, social media and travel media manager at Visit Cumberland Valley, said that his organization is a bit different from others. “We are supported by being the economic development arm of Cumberland County as the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation. This gives us opportunities that other visitor bureaus might not have,” he said.

Instead of just focusing on travelers, they are focusing on the business community and how to get funding to them, specifically reaching out to restaurants and hotels on how they can help.

“We were also able to get CARES Act funding for the county,” Jumper said, adding that they also looked into other state and federal programs. “We put out weekly information on funding opportunities which were available to businesses by turning a monthly newsletter into a weekly one to keep people apprised of what was available to them,” he said.

Visit Cumberland Valley also promoted the region as a good place to spend time outside. “We have three state parks and outdoor trails and promoted the region as a place to turn off the phones and spend time with family outside of the house,” Jumper said.

The organization has also looked to crowdsourcing to promote the region. The organization encouraged people to share images of where they’re shopping, eating, and buying on social media, for a chance to win a restaurant card.

The immediate future may seem a bit bleak for now, Jumper said, but he is more optimistic about the second quarter of 2021, especially with the possibility of a vaccine. 

Visit Hershey & Harrisburg

Mary Smith, President and CEO of Visit Hershey & Harrisburg, said that her organization has been particularly hard hit. “We’ve had to make adjustments. This summer we were forced to eliminate nine positions, which was half our staff,” she said, adding that prior to COVID, things were robust with well-attended trade shows, meetings and conventions, group tours and sports.

Smith said that they consider themselves lucky to have a few events and tournaments take place over the summer like lacrosse and baseball and other youth sporting tournaments.  She said that over the summer the organization tuned in to webinars run by tourism experts and realized the demand for outdoor activities. “We then executed an adventure trail that focused on hiking, biking and kayaking.”

According to Smith, Visit Hershey & Harrisburg usually targets New York, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia and surrounding areas, but this year they shut down paid marketing and focused on social media channels. The first campaign kicked off in July when they launched the beer trail. 

“With Hersheypark opening in July, that also helped. We saw an uptick in visitation and hotel occupancy, but nothing close to what we would have seen in a typical year,” said Smith.

Visit Hershey & Harrisburg received $150,000 through the CARES Act, but tracking lost revenue was still a grim exercise. “To date, we’ve tracked 102 pieces of business that have been lost for a total of $226 million, with cancellations up through February, including sporting events and events at the Farm Show Complex, like the Great American Outdoor Show.”

The organization created a tourism task force with approximately 30 representatives from various sectors of tourism and developed a “safe together” pledge to assure visitors precautions were being taken to protect them.

Like the others, Smith doesn’t foresee a break in the logjam until spring. “That doesn’t mean that events will happen then, but we do think that it’s good news that folks are looking at getting some meetings on the books again,” she said.

Discover Lancaster’s new chief ready to promote ‘experience’

Edward Harris is set to take the role of  president and CEO of Discover Lancaster on June 22.

Edward Harris wants to tell “the awesome story that is Lancaster.”

That’s how he describes his responsibilities when he takes on the role of president and CEO of Discover Lancaster, the official destination marketing organization of Lancaster County, on June 22.

Harris, 41, comes to the area after working six years at Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, most recently as chief marketing officer.

Working at Valley Forge was a great experience, Harris said, and “I’m really excited to go to Lancaster.”

Originally from Philadelphia’s Roxborough section, he graduated from Germantown Academy, where he was captain of the basketball team in 1997. The 6-2 Harris played off guard.

He matriculated to Saint Joseph’s University, and was a big fan of the Hawks’ hoops teams under former head coach Phil Martelli. Harris had a campus job in Martelli’s office.

In 2001, he graduated with a marketing degree and was hired full time at AND1, a basketball startup company that makes footwear and apparel.

He stayed in that industry but moved on to Converse (Nike) in Boston; Timberland in Stratham, New Hampshire; and Under Armour in Baltimore. While in New England, Harris earned his MBA from Boston College.

His prior job before coming to Valley Forge was at eBay Enterprise in King of Prussia. Harris said he and his wife, Kristin, wanted to move back to Pennsylvania when they started a family.

They’re the parents of a son, Will, 9, and a daughter, Ruby, 3. Harris said the plan is to relocate from King of Prussia to Lancaster. “We’re looking at schools.”

Blending passions

Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board was his first experience working for a nonprofit, he said.

“There are a lot of parallels” with the footwear and apparel industry, Harris said. “Every season is about something new.”

“You’re promoting an experience now instead of products.”

Harris traced his interest in marketing to an advanced visual arts class he took in high school.“In college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. But Harris fell in love with marketing because it involved business, analytics and strategy – and was “super creative.”

“It’s really the creative business major,” he said. “It kind of blended my passions.”

When he arrived at the Valley Forge tourism bureau, which covers Montgomery County, it was very focused on history. After all, Montco is the home of Valley Forge National Historical Park. However, the focus “gradually expanded way beyond what everyone is familiar with,” Harris said. “There are a lot of small towns and things to do,” he said.

During Harris’ tenure, there was a major expansion of the King of Prussia Mall; construction of the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Plymouth Meeting; and transformation of the Elmwood Park Zoo.

The tourism bureau also enhanced its website in 2019 to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and launched accessmontco.com, which is geared to travelers with disabilities.

Named to the Philadelphia Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list in 2017, Harris is chairman of the marketing advisory board at the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s, where he’s taught marketing strategies.

As for Lancaster County, Harris said he’s been coming here since he was a boy. “I remember Dutch Wonderland, Sight & Sound, the Strasburg Rail Road, Shady Maple. The drive is so beautiful.”

Now his own kids love Dutch Wonderland, he said.

Hit the ground running

Harris is familiar with the county from an attraction standpoint, so he looks forward to meeting Lancaster city leaders and other officials from the county.

His priority is to “hit the ground running,” he said, and meet with as many government, business and community leaders as possible in the first 30-60 days. Harris said he’s very fortunate to join a team at Discover Lancaster that’s already quite strong.

The aim is to build a COVID-19 recovery plan for when tourists begin to feel comfortable taking trips again, he said. We want to “partner with a lot of great businesses throughout the county.”

“As the coronavirus impact has continued, we know how important it is to have a new president and CEO in place,” Discover Lancaster Board Chair Rebecca Gallagher said in an emailed statement. “And Ed’s proven capabilities make him the right person at the right time to ensure Discover Lancaster will be a driving force revitalizing our industry.”

People are going to seek an escape, and Lancaster County should be well-positioned coming out of the coronavirus as a great destination for families, Harris said.

At the same time, there has to be a sensitivity to county residents who may not want to be inundated with tourists so soon after a pandemic, he said.

What does he see as the county’s assets?

“Amish culture will always be a key component of the DNA,” he said. Plus, there’s a growing restaurant scene, breweries, live entertainment. And the City of Lancaster is vibrant, with so much creativity, Harris said. “It’s a cool place to spend time.”

An estimated 8.85 million people visited Lancaster County in 2018 adding $2.9 billion to the county’s economy, according to a study published last year.

“Lancaster County has so much to discover,” Harris said. “There’s an incredible variety of things to do.”