Five Years After the Onset of the Great Recession,
Local Travel Industry Rebounds Healthily

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - Whether they're clutching a business meeting agenda or the hand of a family member - and very often it's both, in a mix of business and pleasure - visitors to Montgomery County, Pa., continue fueling the local economy with their tourist dollars.

A 2012 study conducted by Tourism Economics, an analytics company with a regional headquarters in Philadelphia, reveals an annual $1.5 billion in spending from visitors, up 3.6 percent from 2011 figures.

Equally notable is that this level of performance comes five years after the 2008 Great Recession, brought about by the financial collapse of firms such as Lehman Brothers and the ensuing instability that shook all economic sectors, especially the tourism trade so dependent on discretionary dollars.

The healthy performance stats include expenditures on accommodations, restaurants, retail shopping, transportation and recreation. Twenty-two percent of Montgomery County residents rely on this market segment for employment, across 19,723 jobs.

The tourism sector supported 5.3 percent of employment (one in every 19 jobs) in Greater Philadelphia last year. Total tourism employment area-wide rose 2.6 percent last year to 88,761, outpacing overall employment growth. Tourism is now number six in rankings of employment sectors, ahead of industries such as construction, transportation and insurance.

Local employment figures have risen seven percent, attributable to six new hotels and two new attractions opening in the county. Montgomery County has shown some of the strongest employment growth in the travel/tourism segment in the region.

These employment gains have enabled the county to maintain strong personal income gains, and the related tax relief saves each resident $415 a year.

Bill Fitzgerald, President of the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau, comments on the upticks: "We are extremely proud of the role that travel and tourism has played in not only helping Montgomery County emerge from the recession of 2008 but also sustain growth over time. This is fantastic news for everyone who lives and works here."

The rosy numbers also reflect the appeal of the county as a visitor destination, according to Fitzgerald. "Montgomery County continues to distinguish itself as a prime spot for the convention, tourism and consumer markets," he says. "We have deep history, diverse shopping, first-rate dining, unique museums and an outdoor variety of adventures to capture imaginations year-round."

The number-one draw in the area is the King of Prussia Mall, which attracts 25 million visitors every year; however, 1.2 million vacationing history buffs come annually to Valley Forge National Historical Park. The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center is a hub of public, private and trade show events; its yearly calendar is packed with more than 130 gatherings that attract thousands of visitors. Other local sites of high activity include the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pa.; the Bryn Athyn Historical District; the Valley Forge Casino Resort and the Stoogeum in Ambler, Pa., North America's only museum devoted entirely to The Three Stooges.

"As a distribution of tourism sales, Montgomery County is #2, behind Philadelphia County," Fitzgerald concludes. "We've retained this #2 spot two years in a row, holding steady from 2010 and 2011, but we're always on the move and always out to do better."

The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ltd. is a nonprofit, membership-based sales and marketing organization that actively promotes the Valley Forge area and Montgomery County, Pa., as a convention site and leisure visitor destination by encouraging patronage of its 300-plus member hotels, restaurants, attractions and services. The Bureau's website serves visitors, meeting planners, tour operators and residents, as well as hosting The Pursuit, a twice-weekly blog.