Rolling fields and open spaces. Towns and villages known for their rich culture and business communities. A nationally known mushroom industry. A world-class display garden.
These are just some of the county’s eye-catching and unique features that the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau has the pleasure of promoting on a daily basis. Susan Hamley, executive director of the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau, attended the Chester County Planning Commission’s board meeting on Sept. 11 and discussed her organization’s partnership with the county and discussed her agency’s role, which is mainly focused on promotion of the county’s tourism attractions.
Those tourism assets include America’s garden capital and crown jewel, Longwood Gardens; arts and culture anchored by the Brandywine River Museum of Art; main streets and villages; and recreation and preserved open spaces.
“We’re very blessed,” Hamley said. “I think we have more assets than any county in the state.”
The organization has a vision “to be universally recognized as the premier Mid-Atlantic destination delivering experiences that are unsurpassed in quality and diversity,” she said.
Hamley explained that the bureau’s major goal is to attract people to this area for an overnight trip because the agency is funded mainly by a hotel lodging tax. The organization recently was accredited globally for its tourism efforts, Hamley added.
The bureau uses several marketing efforts that include advertisements, public relations, and event support. The bureau promotes the county’s tourism assets to audiences in the Philadelphia region, Washington, D.C. Metro Region, New York City and northern New Jersey.
The agency also participates in trade shows, conferences, and sales missions to develop relationships and generate leads, Hamley said. The bureau identifies programs that would work well in the Chester County environment and bring out-of-town visitors. In addition, the organization works with tour operators in key countries to create awareness of the countryside of Philadelphia. The target audience overseas includes Europe, China, and India.
One new special event that the bureau organized with partners is the Citadel Country Spirit USA event, which is a three-day country music festival. This event took place for the first time in 2018 and was so successful that it happened again this past summer at the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds.
The bureau also has been examining lodging clusters in Chester County and seeing what can be done to increase attractions in some areas of the county. In the Kennett area, there are 10 lodging properties with about 300 rooms; in the West Chester area there are seven properties with about 470 rooms; in the Exton/Downingtown area there are 12 properties with about 1,300 rooms; and in the Route 202 Corridor area there are 17 properties with about 2,000 rooms, according to Hamley.
The agency has been focusing its tourism products on three different themes, including agriculture (culinary) that includes breweries, wineries and mushrooms; arts and culture that focuses on the Wyeths (a family known for artwork); and outdoor experiences that focus on equine and gardens. To help the breweries organize, the bureau created a website, BVBrewScene.com. The organization is also looking into ways to create new agritourism experiences and will be hosting a two-day event, “Home Grown USA” on Sept. 19 and 20th 2020 at Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds. The event will include a farm petting zoo, local food trucks, crafts, entertainment, farming food education, and interactive activities.
Hamley emphasized how successful a county can be when the visitor bureau and local government agencies work together. She referenced a collaborative marketing campaign known as “Pure Michigan” in which the visitor bureau and government agencies worked together and used the same messaging.
“It had a beautiful outcome because they were all on the same page and singing the same tune,” she said.
Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary thanked Hamley and her organization for partnering with the county. He called the agency “a great partner” to the county and he said the Planning Commission has worked on several issues with the agency, including marketing, historic preservation, agricultural issues, wayfinding signage, and economic development initiatives.