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TheBurg (June 2016) -- Local tourism stakeholders gathered in March to hear how the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau (HHRVB) envisions growing the region’s sports and events business.

After a decade of successfully selling the Hershey Harrisburg Region as a premier destination for event producers, the HHRVB commissioned Huddle Up Group LLC and DMOproZ to examine how the destination can remain competitive and grow within the sports and events markets.

In 2015 the bureau reported 17 of their top 25 clients were related to organized sports and consumer events that attracted nearly 1 million attendees and produced an estimated $230 million for the region’s economy.

“Youth sports tournaments and large public events have proven to be our most lucrative sales markets,” said Mary Smith, President & CEO for HHRVB. “These types of events have a major positive impact on our regional economy because they attract large audiences and draw a mass of spectators and participants. So we wanted to study how our organization is positioned for future growth in these increasingly competitive market segments.”

Top recommendations in the report include nearly doubling the annual investment HHRVB makes in sports and events marketing, and expanding staff to focus on sales and services. The report also recommends pursuing opportunities with existing events locally to create spin-offs and new annual festivals that would drive lodging during seasons when hotel occupancy is traditionally lowest.

A major recommendation in the study was to establish a uniquely branded sports & events authority housed within the HHRVB.

In 2010 the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for Erie, Pennsylvania, created the Erie Sports Commission using a similar model with great success, according to John Oliver, President of VisitErie. Since 2012 the number of events held in Erie has quadrupled and nearly 40 events have been secured or created.

“The growth in organized youth sports and travel teams is why destination marketers, like VisitErie, are recognizing the full economic potential for sports tourism,” said Gregg Cook, Sports Marketing Manager for HHRVB. “It has become big business.”

Sporting events in particular have been important to the Hershey Harrisburg Region because they have proven to be recession-proof, according to Smith. Following the 2008 recession the tourism industry saw dramatic dips in business and leisure travel, but sports remained relatively untouched.

A report by the National Association of Sports Commissions Parents shows that on average, three family members will travel to a youth sports event and parents will spend an estimated $7 billion annually on travel related to sports.

The central location of the Hershey Harrisburg Region and its well-established brand identity within the Mid-Atlantic Region were among the region’s strongest assets for remaining competitive in the sports and events markets, according to Jon Schmieder of Huddle Up Group LLC who co-authored the HHRVB Report.

“This destination is easily accessible for those living within the major population centers along the East Coast and the region is a well-known family-friendly destination,” said Schmieder. “Those two factors consistently rank very high with sports and event planners when selecting a location.”

Tourism officials say some recommendations from the report could be enacted later this year while other findings will be developed into more long-term goals.

HHRVB leads economic growth for this region through destination marketing and tourism development.
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