By Rachel Jones / Photographs from Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency
Let’s be honest, here — a day trip to Washington County could actually cover several days. With the interesting discoveries at The Bradford House, endless retail options at Tanger Outlets, and eclectic selection of restaurants, it’s easy to want to overstay your visit. And, you’re more than welcome to do so!
“Come out and enjoy our history and heritage, but don’t just visit; become an integral part of our area,” says Jeff Kotula, president of Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency. Both groups merged their missions two years ago to better promote their shared vision of increasing tourism and economic development in the county. They do so by creating, hosting, and supporting local events that will bring more people into Washington.
This summer, the biggest events were the Whiskey Rebellion Festival in July, which honors the significance of the Revolutionary War-era event, and DICK’s Sporting Goods PONY League World Series in August. The baseball tournament takes the county into the global spotlight, as fans and players from all over the word travel to Lew Hays Pony Field for the week. The goals of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agency are to not only appeal to these tourists, but to also encourage them to extend their visits or return in the future.
By working to continue this cycle, tourism has become one of the largest industries in the area. Bringing in more than $700 million to the local economy and providing jobs for 6,500 residents, the field has continued to flourish during Kotula’s 16 years on the job.
Recently, the greatest contribution to this influx has been the area’s natural gas production. “In the past 10 years, we’ve had tremendous economic growth, primarily driven by Marcellus Shale,” Kotula says. “Our hotels have been filled with visitors to Washington. So, we consider: How do we get them to stay an extra night? To go see a Washington Wild Things game? To want to relocate here?”
Most of the agencies’ promotions are carried out through events. Shifting from their previous focus on sponsoring events, they now work to develop marketing and social media campaigns instead. Taking this route takes less time to reach more people, particularly younger generations, which helps spread the word even further. “Millennials love to share their experiences with their friends on social media, and we want them to share their experiences in Washington,” Kotula says.
From the historical landmarks, like the LeMoyne House, to the modern developments, like The Meadows Casino, there are plenty of experiences in the area to share. Washington County offers that Goldilocks-like balance of activities, opportunities, and neighborhoods. It’s not too rural, not too suburban — it’s just right. The people who live, work, and learn in the area know how enjoyable it is to take in everything the county has to offer, and continue to work with everyone from local government officials to business leaders to share the benefits with as many tourists and potential residents as possible.
“I think that’s something we really pride ourselves on,” Kotula says. “No matter who you are or who you work for, we all see the same big picture. We all want Washington County to move forward as a united front. That’s a big part of our success.”