Restaurant Week, Ale Trail passport & more on Visit Bucks’ 2019 agenda

The tourism agency has a number of initiatives planned for the year to increase travel to Bucks County

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Best of Bucks: Visit Bucks County marketing director Heather Walter led a marketing and communications discussion during the organization’s recent event at Bucks County Community College, which provided insight into several past, current and future campaigns to drive visitors to the area. Samantha Bambino / Times Photo

2018 was a milestone year for Visit Bucks County, the official tourism promotion agency for the county. Not only did it rally locals into experiencing all the area has to offer through initiatives like the first countywide Restaurant Week, which boasted 70 participating eateries, it also introduced potential visitors in New York and Washington, D.C., to attractions such as Sesame Place, Bristol Riverside Theatre and the Bucks County Ice Cream Trail.

Now, VBC is gearing up to do it all again with a slew of brand new marketing campaigns for 2019. On the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the Zlock Performing Arts Center at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, the organization invited area businesses impacted by tourism to hear what’s planned for the year.

The event kicked off at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast spread and mingling/networking, following by an address by VBC president and COO, Jerry Lepping.

“Visitation was up for 2018, and we’re excited for what’s to come in 2019,” he said, adding that VBC’s upcoming efforts are aimed at driving more visitors to Bucks County.

Attendees then heard from VBC vice president Paul Bencivengo, who provided some striking hospitality statistics from 2018. Regarding occupancy, Bucks County had an increase of almost 4 percent, compared to Pennsylvania’s 3.5 percent and Philadelphia’s 3 percent. In addition, 8 million people visited the area last year, which resulted in $1 billion in economic impact and the employment of 27,000 people.

“We’re doing pretty good,” he said.

Bencivengo highlighted a number of key expansions and developments locals and tourists alike can anticipate in 2019. These include several openings such as The Deck Restaurant and Bar at the Bucks County Playhouse, the Playhouse Inn directly next door, Odd Logic Brewing Co. in Bristol, a beer garden at Parx Casino, and the four-story, 106-suite Home2 Suites by Hilton Warminster-Horsham at 230 Veterans Way.

Based on colored stickers they were given during breakfast, attendees were divided into three breakout sessions to learn what’s new in the departments of industry relations, marketing and communications, and visitor services.

During the first, industry relations director Lisa Paglaiccetti and her “small but mighty” team discussed how they’re working with the more than 1,400 tourism-friendly attractions, shops and businesses throughout Bucks County, helping to share their stories and promote them to potential visitors.

“Our main goal is outreach and relationship building,” Paglaiccetti said.

Upcoming on her staff’s agenda is an all-new partnership with United Way of Bucks County, whose Bucks Knocks Out Hunger program will benefit from this year’s Restaurant Week, as well as an uptick in small, targeted group events. The purpose of these free workshops is to provide businesses with knowledge on how to obtain grants, utilize various social media platforms to increase traffic and more. The next event on Feb. 12 at Bucks County Playhouse will host a representative from TripAdvisor.

VBC marketing director Heather Walter led the marketing and communications discussion, which provided insight into several past, current and future campaigns. According to Walter, a main goal of VBC is to entice visitors, especially from target areas in New York, Northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C., to spend a long weekend in Bucks County rather than just a day. For example, in conjunction with promotions for Restaurant Week, which this year will take place April 28-May 4, the marketing team will advertise museums, theaters and other attractions that could easily fill multiple days.

In addition to a larger Restaurant Week, which Bencivengo said is expected to feature more than 100 eateries, the Bucks County Ale Trail and Ice Cream Trail will both be showcased through a passport contest. At each location participants visit, they’ll receive a stamp on their passport, which can be entered into a drawing for a grand prize once completed. This is an incentive for people to stop by and experience multiple breweries and creameries.

Over the next few months, VBC is working to increase its presence on YouTube. Walter touched on two series that showcase Bucks County through the eyes of its residents — Bucks County is My Home and Check In, which is based on MTV’s Cribs and provides an in-depth look inside local bed and breakfasts.

To drive tourists to the area for the holiday season and compete against what Walter called the “Hersheys of the world,” the Bucks County Visitor Center in Bensalem is once again hosting a Holiday Trees display, which in 2018 was set up by former White House decorator Coleen Christian Burke. Additionally, the Visitor Center will offer a more diversified array of exhibits. These include “Equality — Pride in Our History,” on display until March 23, an African American Museum speaker series, and Skylar Granville, a local artist with cerebral palsy who paints with his feet, whose work will be displayed during National Disability Awareness Month.

Lepping led the third breakout session of the morning, outlining details of VBC’s biannual Tourism Grant, which is funded entirely by a hotel tax. According to him, the tax is 5 percent, and half of 1 percent is put toward the grant program monthly. Since its inception almost 10 years ago, the initiative has distributed $4 million in grants to more than 100 organizations, most of them small businesses. The spring deadline is April 1, and recipients must be a tourism-related 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(6) nonprofit. Grant money is given for special events, capital improvements and marketing.

Visit Bucks County is at 3207 Street Road, Bensalem. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Go to VisitBucksCounty.com or call 1–800–836-BUCKS for information. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com