KING OF PRUSSIA, PA – As the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) strategizes ways to reinvigorate the hospitality industry – and stimulate economic impact and jobs for Montgomery County, PA in 2021 – the organization’s staff is also looking back at what was accomplished in 2020, despite challenges due to COVID-19.

“Last year tested and humbled us in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine,” said Mike Bowman, President & CEO of the VFTCB. “Our industry has been bent, yes, but not broken. And, it will bounce back. History tends to repeat itself, and bad times are almost always followed by good ones. Much like the Roaring Twenties a century ago, people will need to socialize. They’re going to want to celebrate. The only way forward is to come together, and rise above. To advocate for our members, partners, and community as best we can to benefit the entire region. We believe in our destination, and we’re not giving up.”

That’s why the VFTCB’s brand-new tagline as part of its 2021 Relaunch Plan is #MakeItHappen, reflecting not just what the team plans to do this year, but also an encouraging invitation to both leisure and business visitors, who may have missed out on activities last year.

Using data-driven and quarterly objectives, the keys for the VFTCB will be:

  • Supporting hotels by selling Montco differently using virtual tours through Montco 360, providing tools to planners to confidently host events here with Montco Wellness for Events, and revamping the #MakeItMontco Hotel Experience.
    • Two new hotels opening: the Residence Inn Bala Cynwyd is targeting February, and the Element King of Prussia in March. That brings the county total to 81 properties with 9,400 rooms.
      • By the end of 2021, the county should be at 65-70% on the way back to pre-pandemic tourism/hotel revenue levels.
  • Focusing on Valley Forge Sports events, which have proven to be recession-proof. While room nights for this market segment decreased 40% from 64,000 in 2019 to 35,000 in 2020, many sports facilities were still able to host tournaments, including 10 new ones.
    • The VFTCB has already booked more than 12 new sporting events for 2021, representing more than $25 million in positive economic impact for the county. This June and July will be, by far, the busiest ever in Montco with outdoor sporting events every weekend.
      • The National Cup Lacrosse at the Proving Grounds in Conshohocken is the country’s most prestigous college recruiting tournament for lacrosse, allowing high school and middle school teams to exhibit their skills against the best competition in the nation. These players will be showcased on ESPN alongside the best female athletes in the world. This one event alone will produce more than 6,000 total hotel room nights, and more than $7 million in economic impact for the region.
  • Pent-up behavior means a demand for spotlighting social gatherings like reunions and weddings. In 2019, 4,200 Montco Weddings were held for $168.7 million in economic impact. More than 50% of weddings rescheduled in 2020, so a 35% surge is expected in 2021 with more than 5,000 weddings and spend reaching an all-time high of $200 million.
    • The team is connecting with prospective wedding couples in new and creative ways by using targeted social media ads, and podcasts vs. wedding shows.
  • Highlighting Valley Forge National Historical Park’s renovated Visitor Center, expected to reopen by the summer.
  • Utilizing events like potential festivals (possibly virtual) to push Arts Montco cultural venues (normally a $100 million economic impact), and Crave Montco Month, a promotional event to support 1,600 restaurants/30-plus award-winning Montco Makers (breweries, wineries, and distilleries).
  • Leading with innovative technology by refreshing the VFTCB’s two free mobile apps (Visit Valley Forge and Montco Makers), and redesigning the website.
  • Continuing to back small, local businesses impacted by coronavirus with the Make It Main Street initiative.
    • Ads drove more than 65% traffic to the website for 9,000 pageviews
    • More than 4,000 clicks came from Facebook and Instagram, more than 760,000 video views, and #MakeItMainStreet reached 4 million users
  • Summer/fall marketing campaigns targeting families throughout heavily populated Mid-Atlantic region to capture leisure travelers, and concentrating on the area’s strengths, outdoor suburban space, trails, golf, history, driveability, location, etc.

To fully understand the impact of the public health pandemic in 2020, the VFTCB compared the year to 2019. Tourism is normally a key economic driver in Montco, contributing $1.65 billion in positive impact, and more than 25-30,000 jobs (more than 4% of jobs in county).  In 2020, that was down 50%, an $800 million loss, and jobs also decreased 50% (the largest of any industry), a $150 million personal income loss.

Over the past decade, Montco’s regional share of the tourism segment had been growing with hotel sector KPIs – occupancy, ADR, and RevPAR – all increasing significantly. The VFTCB and county hospitality industry were set for another record-breaking year in 2020 pre-COVID. Instead, more than $106 million was lost in hotel revenue as compared to $250 million and two million room nights booked across the county in 2019. Year-over-year, hotel occupancy also went down 40% from 66% to 39.4%. ADR declined 19% to $95, and RevPAR was also down 52% at $37. More than 120 VFTCB events canceled in 2020, a loss of 46,000 room nights and $4.5 million vs. 136,000 booked by the organization alone in 2019. Due to COVID, hotel demand shifted into suburban counties providing more rural, less dense surroundings for social distancing. Montco captured 25% of the hotel demand, up 4% YOY.

Montgomery County is still a leading county for employment in life sciences, healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing, according to David Zellers, Jr., Director of Commerce.

Some other positive signs from VFTCB’s 2020 recap:

  • #MontCoStrong t-shirt fundraiser raised $25,000 for county COVID fund
  • Launched digital routes through Bike Montco
  • Record numbers at 50 historic and top-ranked golf courses (18,000 pageviews and more than 1,200 GolfNow tee-time booking requests), dozens of parks, and 100 miles of trails
  • Sixth Annual Valley Forge Freedom from Hunger Food Drive collected almost $5,000, equivalent of more than 20,000 pounds of food (and 45,000 to date)
  • More than 7 million impressions for the #MakeItMontco Hotel Package through summer TripAdvisor partnership
  • Website: more than 622,000 visits, and addition of LiveChat
  • Organization won more than 20 awards including multiple marketing and creative awards for Access Montco
  • Social media: 161,779 followers (growth of more than 4,000), 1.6 million video views (more than 5.6 million to date), and 3 million individuals reached
    • Positive/emotional user-generated content resonating, and recognized “Hotel Hero” hospitality employees who’ve gone above and beyond during the pandemic – reach of more than 1.6 million
  • Public relations: Almost 500 articles, exposure of 313 million (almost 4,000 and 613 million to date)
    • Hosted five Town Talks – touched 40 out of 62 municipalities to date
  • Revamped the VFTCB membership program to three-tiered, and monthly orientation sessions with virtual/guest speakers

The Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) is a nonprofit, membership-based sales and marketing organization that actively promotes Valley Forge and Montgomery County, PA as a convention site and leisure visitor destination by encouraging patronage of its 500+ member hotels, restaurants, attractions, and services. The award-winning website links visitors, meeting planners, tour operators, and residents to a diverse portfolio of brands focused on reasons to visit the region.