‘Reimagining’ the visitor experience in Montco
UPPER MERION >> It was another sell-out for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board as more than 600 guests turned out for the agency’s annual luncheon at the renovated Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.
The Oct. 26 luncheon was held at the Expo Center because it is one of the remaining places in the Montgomery County that can accommodate the size of the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s event, according to Ed Harris, chief marketing officer.
Membership of the organization continues to grow and now approaches 600 — up 65 percent in three years.
Before the luncheon officially began, guests got a “taste” of Montgomery County with networking and live music in a Montco Makers-themed lounge that highlighted the county’s local wineries, breweries and distilleries. Montco Makers is a group of more than 30 breweries, wineries and distilleries in the county that are easily navigated using MontcoMakers.com and its app.
The event’s “Reimagine” theme highlighted the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board’s vision to reimagine the visitor experience in Montgomery County. During the afternoon, guests heard about results from the past year and got a look ahead at events planned for the coming year and beyond.
Harris said in an interview Friday that the theme was chosen for several reasons.
“One of the main reasons is because Montgomery County is going through a renaissance. There is an incredible amount of new development and reinterpreting of old spaces right now, and an influx of capital to all parts of the county,” he said. “Reimagine seemed to be a way to weave a thread across what’s happening in the business community and how people market businesses and attractions.”
He stressed how the Expo Center had reimagined itself to make the venue one that could successfully accommodate this summer’s six-week run of Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA by making changes to a section of its parking lot to accommodate the show.
Cirque du Soleil sold more than 75,000 tickets during its Montgomery County run this summer, according to Harris. While dates have not been finalized, Cirque du Soleil will be returning to the Expo Center, he said.
In the meantime, the Big Apple Circus will bring its
acts to the Expo Center in May and June 2019, using the outdoor footprint at the location. Harris said talks to bring Big Apple Circus to Montgomery County started during the summer.
The Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board took the opportunity of its annual luncheon to outline a new marketing initiative — emBARK Montco — saying it made sense to do it at the home of the National Dog Show, which will call the Expo Center home through 2022. The announcement was made with the help of a couple of canine competitors from the show.
Of Montgomery County’s 75 hotels, more than 30 are pet-friendly, giving residents and visitors the opportunity to explore Montgomery County without leaving their pets behind. EmBARK Montco officially launched Oct. 26, and billboards will be going up the week of Nov. 5, according to Harris. EmBARK Montco features access to customizable maps to find pet friendly hotels, restaurants and parks.
“We’re intentionally launching in November because the National Dog Show keeps coming back to Montgomery County every year,” Harris said. “What better timing to launch the campaign.”
Harris outlined another new Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board initiative, slated to begin in 2019. MontcoTV will be a new website dedicated to video, and will debut on Facebook Watch and Instagram TV.
“It will feature a wide range of tourism and travel related videos — including attractions, interviews with chefs and videos of area mascots. There will be something for everyone and it will help us tell a broader story about what you can experience here,” Harris said, adding the site will focus on the things that make Montgomery County unique.
2019 will also feature a performance at the Keswick Theatre by the Philadelphia Orchestra, scheduled for March 21. A side-by-side rehearsal with local students in the Abington School District will take place during the day, followed by a community concert in the evening. Harris added that the orchestra will be back for a large outdoor concert in 2020.
“This is where the renaissance is happening. There is more to do in suburban Philadelphia that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago. There is a lot of development, and we are reimagining what our area can be. It’s exciting, and there is more to come,” Harris added.
According to statics provided during the luncheon, tourism spending in Montgomery County in 2017 reached $1.6 billion and grew by more than 2.8 percent from the prior year. Tourism also supported more than 4.1 percent of all jobs in the county, employing more than 20,000 people.
In addition, the county still holds a 41 percent share of tourism spending in the Philadelphia suburbs at $3.8 billion, a 2.8 percent increase over last year.
Among the guests were Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the former chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners as well as Montgomery County Commissioners Valerie Arkoosh, Kenneth Lawrence and Joseph Gale.
Keynote speaker was Jeff Fromm, a nationally known millennial and GenZ marketer. Fromm has worked with and helped reimagine a collection of the world’s leading brands, with more than 25 years of brand marketing experience.
For more information about the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board visit www.valleyforge.org/