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Happy Valley Visitation, Economic Impact Continues Strong Trend

Submitted by Fritz Smith, Happy Valley Adventure Bureau

Centre County, Pennsylvania – what we fondly call Happy Valley – is a place where vibrant culture, breathtaking landscapes, abundant outdoor recreational opportunities, rich tradition, and unparalleled hospitality await. These attributes and more make Happy Valley an ideal and affordable mid-Atlantic destination. As the official destination marketing organization for Centre County, The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau’s (HVAB) mission is to motivate leisure, sports, group tour and business travelers to make visiting Happy Valley, PA part of their travel plans.

The result of this important work is a local tourism industry that is closing in on $1 billion in economic impact for Centre County. In fact, a 2023 visitor profile report commissioned by the HVAB and conducted by Longwoods Travel USA®, combined with other metrics tracked by the Bureau, indicate that the state of leisure, sports and business visitation to the county is on a strong, promising trajectory. We expect to eclipse that $1 billion mark this year.

Visitation Growth

Centre County welcomed more than 4.4 million visitors in 2023, up from 3.9+ million visitors in 2022, and more than 3.4 million visitors in 2021. Last year, overnight visitor spending amounted to approximately $0.5 billion (53 percent of total spend), with day trips accounting for $0.4 billion (47 percent) for a combined expenditure of $0.9 billion.

Longwood’s report signals the importance of both ‘day trippers’ and ‘overnighters’ in driving our tourism economy. ‘Heads in beds’ are of course most important to Happy Valley’s lodging properties and hospitality businesses, as well as to the HVAB’s ability to effectively market to our target audiences – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg/Hershey/Lancaster/Lebanon/York tops among them.

Lodging taxes paid by visitors also fund the HVAB’s annual Tourism Grant program conducted in partnership with Centre County Commissioners. The grant program supports events and initiatives that drive visitation and enhance our tourism product and community quality of life. The fact that the county’s 2023 overall lodging performance topped 2022 in all categories except supply – occupancy, average daily rate, revenue per available room, demand, and total revenue –is great news for the grant program. This year’s funding pool will reach nearly $1 million.

Day trippers also spend their dollars in our restaurants, attractions, and travel-related businesses, further fueling the local economy. Both are essential.

Mountain biking in Rothrock State Forest and other outdoor recreational opportunities are popular reasons for visiting Happy Valley.

For both day trips and overnight stays, the outdoors and sporting activities ranked as top reasons to visit Happy Valley, PA, according to the visitor profile. [The HVAB is fortunate to partner with a strong contingent of groups and individuals committed to supporting and growing the responsible use of our outdoor recreation assets and caring for them so that they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations of residents and visitors alike.]

Sports – both Penn State and non-Penn State events and tournaments– are another significant reason for the strength of our visitation economy.

In 2022, the HVAB commissioned Econsult Solutions Inc. to report on the economic impact of sporting events in Centre County. This study estimated that in the aggregate, sports events and associated activity are estimated to generate an annual economic impact of approximately $417 million within the county, supporting 4,315 jobs with $133 million in employee compensation.

It is no secret that Penn State football home games provide tremendous economic benefits to the county and the surrounding region. However, youth and adult tournament organizer and participant interest in being in Happy Valley is on the rise.

A shining example of a non-Penn State athletic event that is positively contributing to the economy is the IRONMAN® 70.3® Happy Valley Triathlon. The inaugural event on July 2, 2023, generated more than $4.4 million in economic impact, resulting in 7,170 room nights over the course of the three to four nights of the competition. IRONMAN® returns for year two on June 30.

 Major sporting events such as the inaugural IRONMAN® 70.3® Pennsylvania Happy Valley triathlon generate significant economic benefits to the county and showcase the area’s natural beauty.

Already in the first quarter of 2024, four events supported by the Happy Valley Sports & Entertainment Alliance (HVSEA) resulted in a combined estimated economic impact of more than $2.09 million.

These events were the USA Field Hockey National Indoor Tournament Qualifier, the Dinking in the New Year Pickleball Tournament, 2024 Happy Valley Rally, and the Centre of the Universe Roller Derby Tournament.

The 1,800 athletes and their families accounted for an estimated 3,181 room nights sold. The We Build You Play Sports Group Happy Valley Rally volleyball tournament netted the largest Estimated Economic Impact of the four at more than $1.37 million.

Centre County welcomed more than 4.4 million visitors in 2023, represented in this visitation heat map.

Additionally, the HVAB is assessing the economic impact of other tourism segments. The Bureau and HVSEA recently commissioned Econsult Solutions to study Happy Valley’s arts and entertainment venues and offerings to determine where there is potential for growth.

This is a promising time for Happy Valley tourism. The HVAB values working with engaged partners and stakeholders across the county to drive an industry that supports businesses, jobs, and community quality of life.

Fritz Smith is President and CEO of The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.

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