The Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau is now Explore Schuylkill, but the new name keeps the same mission of promoting the county’s many tourism assets in order draw new visitors or bring back previous ones.
The “rebranding” of the visitors bureau is to have it better align with progress in the county, according to Executive Director Regina Gargano, along with the name focusing on the destination, not the organization.
“What seems like solely a name change is really a rebranding process that started over a year ago with our board of directors,” Gargano said Thursday. “A lot of work went into it.”
The Explore Schuylkill logo artwork has two of the most prominent natural features of the county — mountains and forests.
“Our job is to market the county inside the county and bring visitors and their dollars into the county,” Gargano said. “We work very hard to enhance the image of our county. That’s a very important component of marketing the imaging you’re creating and those types of things. It is a more narrow scope as opposed to generalized business and economic development.”
Gargano said the process to determine what changes should be made came from a very extensive survey.
“Back in the spring of last year, we did a rebranding survey on the internet,” she said. “We had great luck with that and had great partnerships with that. Yuengling put it out in their newsletters and at the Lager Jogger. We had all types of businesses as part of it to get the word out there and publicize it.”
Gargano explained what the rebranding is about.
“Rebranding is simply how do you want people to feel about you,” she said. “There is a lot of talk about rebranding. It’s a big buzzword and has been for about 20 years. So we did the survey on our website.”
There were more than 965 responses to the survey, most from county residents (about 65%), but many from visitors (about 35%).
“It took a long time to collate the data,” Gargano said. “That was very labor-intensive counting the beans.”
The survey asked about the main purpose of the most recent trip, which resulted in college/university (2), history/culture (10), hunting/fishing (5), just driving through (9), leisure (12), other (54), outdoor recreation (13), sports tournament (4) and work (12).
As for the specific places visited, the survey said Yuengling Brewery, the Pottsville area, Hawk Mountain, Pioneer Tunnel, the Tamaqua area, Cabela’s, state/county parks, Appalachian Trail and the Shenandoah area.
According to information provided by Gargano, 2018 visitor spending in Schuylkill County totaled $216.5 million, which included lodging, food and beverage, shopping, recreation and transportation sales. This accounted for 1,498 jobs in the county and labor income of $45.8 million. State and local tax coffers were increased by $11.3 million, and $10.2 million went to federal taxes.
The two largest attractions involving nature and outdoors in 2018 were Tuscarora State Park and Locust Lake State Park at 220,000 and 200,000 visitors, respectively. The history and heritage top two sites were Yuengling Brewery at 60,000 visitors and Pioneer Tunnel at 26,335.
The top two in culture and entertainment were the Walk In Art Center and Tamaqua Community Art Center, both at 6,000 visitors each.
The top special events were the Schuylkill County Fair at 22,000, Pottsville Classic Car Cruise at 7,000, Yuengling Light Lager Jogger and Schuylkill County Wine Festival at 6,000 each, Kielbasi Festival at 5,500 and the Lighting of the Vineyard/Benigna’s Creek and Girardville St. Patrick’s Day Parade at 5,000 each.
Gargano said the numbers are provided by each organization/event.
The tourism promotion agency is mostly funded through the state’s implementation of Act 18 that allows for the collection of a 5% hotel tax. With the tax, tourism funds the operations, with membership dues adding to funding.
“The money gets used to fund marketing Schuylkill County as a tourism destination,” Gargano said. “Most of our members are in the tourism industry, which includes arts, history, lodging, recreation both indoor and out, food and beverage, travel, retail trade, all of that. We have all types of members. We have a great partnership with DiscoverNEPA.”
The website states that the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau originated in 1963 when the Schuylkill County commissioners designated the Schuylkill County Tourist Promotion Agency as the county’s official promotional organization designed to market the county a tourism destination.
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Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest