For years, the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau has been blazing trails of opportunity built around promoting the area as a weekend getaway for travelers.
This trend started in 2017 with the launch of the Cumberland Valley Beer Trail that capitalized on the success of the emerging microbrewery scene in Carlisle and Cumberland County.
What started out as a travel itinerary on a blog became a game where participants can access an online passport and check in at up to 30 locations. For every five to 10 check-ins, users can earn prizes.
In 2021, the Beer Trail generated about $167,000 in revenue for the local economy, said Kristen Rowe, director of destination marketing for the bureau.
In late July, she briefed the county commissioners on statistics from the first and second quarters of 2022. During that six-month period, the bureau had 1,552 people sign up for passports, mostly from the Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York metropolitan areas.
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“Which is where we’re promoting the Beer Trail,” Rowe said. “We’re glad to see that the advertising is working.”
On May 26, the bureau launched the Cumberland Valley Ice Cream Trail that featured 17 locations in Carlisle, Mechanicsburg, Shippensburg and the West Shore.
Like the Beer Trail, the advertising campaign focused on bringing in travelers from nearby metropolitan areas. As of late July, Rowe reported that there were 1,094 participants who signed up for passports.
“This falls in line with our leisure advertising strategy,” said Ashley Kurtz, marketing manager for the bureau and the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp.
“We know that our target market is not coming to the Cumberland Valley for a weeklong vacation,” Kurtz said. “They’re going to the beach. Where we have the opportunity to attract them is the weekend getaway. Something that is easy, nearby and fun to do. These are what we call gamified trails meaning you are awarded for participating in them.”
The Ice Cream Trail was in effect through Sept. 6, when the bureau launched its Fall Fun Trail consisting of eight farm attractions and 10 outdoor spots that showcase the activities and foliage that highlight the changing seasons.
The farm attractions include corn mazes, play areas for children and opportunities for families to pick their own apples, pumpkins and sunflowers, Kurtz said. The outdoor spots include all three state parks in Cumberland County along with other destinations where visitors and residents can view the fall colors either on hikes or on drives, she said.
“The passports give us the opportunity to connect with a lot of partners we don’t always have the opportunity to promote,” Kurtz said. When looking at leisure travel, the bureau considers attractions and experiences that are distinctive to the county, she said. This look inward formed the basis of the upcoming Cumberland Valley Coffee & Chocolate Trail.
“We have a nice selection of chocolate shops where they are making their own chocolate or making it nearby and bringing it in,” Kurtz said. “We have specialty chocolate not found anywhere else. We just thought it was a really fun opportunity, especially for a trail that we’re going to start promoting in the winter when it’s cold and there’s not as much to do outdoors. They will have something that is cozier, comforting.”
Valentine’s Day is one of the reasons the bureau is going to promote the Coffee & Chocolate Trail within the first quarter of 2023, Kurtz said. “Valentine’s Day and Easter are some of the biggest candy holidays.”
While most of the Trails are seasonal, the Beer Trail is almost year-round. “We do take it down for a few weeks every year just to refresh it,” Kurtz said. Much of the underlying strategy behind the gamified trail approach could be traced to market conditions that made Carlisle a natural draw for beer aficionados.
In October 2017, Chad Kimmel of Grand Illusion Cider told the Sentinel the microbrewery scene is supported in Carlisle by a mix of institutions that include the Army War College, Dickinson College and Penn State Dickinson School of Law. Local demographic variations in age, generational preferences and education also supported growth, he said.
Another factor is the diversity of people who pass through Carlisle every year, Mike Moll of Molly Pitcher Brewing said in 2017. He said the War College brings in people from around the world while the shows held by Carlisle Events bring in visitors from all over the country.
Like other drivers in the local economy, the system of gamified trails is fed by an extensive network of interstate highways that provide easy access for visitors from major Northeast towns.
The Arrivalist is an online resource the bureau uses to track the frequency, point of origin and the duration of visits by visitors coming into Cumberland County for events or attractions.
Of the 4.8 million arrivals in the county in 2021:
- 55% involved repeat visitors
- 52% involved visitors who spent two or more days in the county
- 31% of the visitors were from 50 to 99 miles away
- 19% of visitors arrived in Cumberland County on a Friday.
The top five origin markets of visitors to Cumberland County were Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area and Pittsburgh.
“We do see a lot of people,” said Cassie Fourlas, general manager of the Molly Pitcher Brewing Co. in Carlisle, which has been on the Beer Trail since it started.
“This is a nice guide for people,” she said. “They’re able to find the hidden gems.”
Some of the customers visiting the Cumberland Valley Beer Trail are from areas that host their own beer trails. “They like to experience the trails in other areas,” Fourlas said. “They become beer travelers.”
The changeover in recent years from a paper passport with stickers to a digital app has made it much easier on Molly Pitcher staff members to keep track of beer trail enthusiasts coming to their 139 W. High St. venue.
Seve-N-Dots Publik Pizza Place, 40 E. Louther St., Carlisle, got on the trail about six months ago, Manager Whitney Waltz said. “It’s been doing OK. Some of the guys used to live here. They see we’re on the trail and stop by.”
Relatively new to brewing, Seve-N-Dots is trying to build up its brand and inventory of craft beer.
Joseph Cress is a reporter for The Sentinel covering education and history. You can reach him at [email protected] or by calling 717-218-0022.