By Lesley Kistner
With new attractions, shopping and dining offerings; first-class athletic facilities — sports is in our DNA, after all — and plenty of wide-open spaces for outdoor adventures of all kinds, Happy Valley, PA is bouncing back after a tough pandemic year. As the official tourism promotion agency for Centre County, The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau is inviting leisure, sports and business visitors to discover and explore their new happy place.
Bright spots emerge from pandemic’s devastating impact on tourism industry
If there is one thing the pandemic did, it was to reinforce the value of visitation to the economy at all levels. The pandemic’s devastating impact on the hospitality industry was particularly hard felt in Happy Valley, where the spring 2020 shutdown was followed by a season of Penn State Nittany Lions football without fans in the stands and without the 100,000+ strong that traditionally converge on the county for football weekends. All told, Happy Valley saw a drop of 1.3 million visitors from 2019 to 2020; and a loss of 500,000 overnight hotel stays. Corresponding hotel revenue was down 71.6 percent, amounting to a revenue loss of $60 million.
As difficult as the pandemic was on the local restaurant and lodging industry, performing arts venues and tourist attractions — as well as The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and destination marketing organizations across the board — bright spots emerged that are positioning the county for an exciting new era of visitation.
“The pandemic really drove home what the community had long known, that we can no longer over-rely on Penn State alone to drive visitation,” said HVAB President and CEO Fritz Smith. “Happy Valley has so much to offer visitors, and our communities all have their own unique identities and attractions. Our marketing messaging is amplifying the many reasons to visit, and the ability to do so safely and affordably.”
Some of Happy Valley’s broad appeal is what Communications Director Edward Stoddard calls its “shiny new things.”
New offerings boost Happy Valley tourism
In the face of a harsh operating environment, several new establishments actually opened their doors during the pandemic and have quickly become popular with locals and visitors alike. Bellefonte’s Axemann Brewery became the newest member of the Central PA Tasting Trail when it opened its expansive microbrewery in the spring of 2020. Fellow trail member University Wine Company cut the ribbon on a beautiful new tasting room with panoramic views. Pine Grove Hall became a welcome addition to the dining scene, offering guests an enjoyable, authentic experience of live music, innovative field-to-fork dining and upscale cocktails in a casual setting. Climb Nittany opened for indoor climbing fun, while nearby Harvest Fields Community Trails gives mountain bikers of all experience levels a chance to ride and hone their skills. Co-ops like Belle Mercantile and Titan Market feature an array of artisan gifts and gourmet foods to shoppers looking for one-of-a-kind finds. The Penn State Arboretum unveiled its anticipated new pollinator garden, just to name a few!
Tournament Town, PA
During the pause in travel, the HVAB also focused on growing sports tourism. With a dedicated sports tourism professional on staff, the organization has a goal of positioning Happy Valley, PA as a true tournament town. In fact, non-Penn state athletic tournaments and events ranging from mountain biking and basketball, to golf, softball and wrestling, have helped boost hotel occupancy as restrictions ease and travel resumes.
Happy Valley recovery
Capturing the attention of visitors in what is a very crowded and competitive field is a priority. Centre County Commissioners recently provided the HVAB with a $250,000 American Rescue Plan grant for a summer marketing blitz. This grant will enable the HVAB to ensure that Happy Valley is top of mind to potential visitors in key target markets of Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh.
Find your new happy place
Happy Valley boasts bountiful outdoor recreation; beautiful gardens and museums; interesting history and architecture; a thriving craft beverage scene that features beer, spirits, wine and cider; dining options that please a variety of palates, including field to fork standouts; intimate settings for indoor and outdoor live music; unique boutique, artisan and antique shops, making it an affordable, all-season destination.
For inspiration and trip planning suggestions, visit www.happyvalley.com or read the HVAB blog, Dispatch.happyvalley.com.
Lesley Kistner is Public Affairs Director for The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.