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Tourism in Lancaster and the Millennial Traveler

Local Stories
July 31 2019
This article first appeared in Thriving! magazine and was written by Wyatt Behringer, Marketing & Communications Manager at City of Lancaster. 

Thriving! magazine is a quarterly magazine by the Lancaster Chamber published by Hoffman Publishing Group

Explore the new July 2019 issue in its entirety online here


Lancaster County has always attracted tourists from far and wide to experience the Amish way of life, but in recent years more and more unique attractions have popped up offering an entirely new experience.

With a bustling urban center in Lancaster City, small town charm in Lititz, and an emerging outdoor recreation scene, Lancaster County is giving a new, younger demographic more reasons than ever to visit.

Tourism is the sixth largest industry in Lancaster County and it’s no secret that many businesses from Bird-in-Hand to Downtown Lancaster City rely on the dollars spent by visitors. According to Discover Lancaster’s Director of Marketing, Sarah Long, Lancaster County welcomed 9 million visitors and generated $3 billion into the economy in 2018.

While most agree that Lancaster County attracts nearly all demographics and age groups, millennials and younger travelers are now a driving force in tourism markets across the United States. After all, in 2015 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Millennials (born between 1982 and 2000) have outgrown Baby Boomers.

Long says there are a few key reasons millennials are attracted to the County, one being there are great options for multi-generational travel. “You can have a meaningful experience where you can bring your parents and your children,” says Sarah. There are plenty of family options during the day and equal choices when it comes to date night. This makes Lancaster County a great destination for families and couples. When many millennials are now raising young families, this is an important consideration. 

Even in the age of Instagram and Facebook, young travelers are looking for authentic experiences they can’t find anywhere else, says Sarah. The national trend stressing the importance of locally sourced food and goods fits effortlessly into Lancaster’s culture. Sarah says, “Farm-to-table in Lancaster County, is just a Saturday night.”

From Lancaster Central Market to Lititz’s main street shops, local food and unique goods can be found on nearly every corner in Lancaster County’s towns and boroughs. While trends come and go, the same qualities attracting tourists for generations are still relevant today. The idyllic farmland and Amish culture, the history and architecture of Lancaster City and towns across the County, the slowed-down pace of life and recognizable friendly faces, and the small-town charm that envelops Lancaster’s culture, all have a role to play in drawing visitors. 


Central Market in Lancaster City - Photo by Jenny Foster

A BUSTLING URBAN CENTER

“Lancaster City would survive without tourism, but it would not be as vibrant as it is today,” says Randy Patterson, Director of Economic Development at the City of Lancaster.

Randy attributes Lancaster’s growth to a few select areas, one being the arts community that spurred a new era
of visitors downtown in the late 2000s. Another is the Lancaster County Convention Center (LCCC) that opened its doors in downtown Lancaster City in 2009. According to the Convention Center’s recent Economic Impact Study, the LCCC attracted over 200 thousand people to the City in 2018 and its economic impact was $34 million on the City of Lancaster in 2017.

Randy says a critical shift happened in the last decade of marketing Lancaster County as a destination to marketing ‘Lancaster’ as an experience. With the renaissance of Lancaster City, the County and City now offered a complete package of urban and rural attractions.

Restaurants like Per Diem and Rooster Street Butcher fit right in with young foodies looking for a meal, while Stoll & Wolfe Distillery and Bulls Head Public House (consistently named best bar in Pennsylvania!) offer the best of libations and good times.

With space to accommodate 74 guests, The Wilbur Hotel is set to have its first rooms available on September 23, 2019, says Holly. Also, in the historic building will be a new restaurant, the Blackworth, and the Market that will house stands from local vendors like Rooster Street Butcher and Waltz Vineyards.

Lancaster City offers unique, new attractions alongside historic architecture. Recent additions to the City like Decades, a boutique bowling alley, arcade and restaurant & bar, Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse, a independent movie theater and restaurant & bar, and Luca, an renowned Italian eatery, along with the eclectic retail hub on the 300 Block of North Queen Street and the alluring Gallery Row, have made Lancaster City a distinct destination of its own.

LITITZ'S COOL FACTOR

It might be cheesy, but Lititz really has that cool factor, says Holly Dekarske, Executive Director of Venture Lititz. Lititz has the charm of an all-American small town that is walkable and well-manicured while also offering new, fascinating destinations like Rock Lititz & Hotel Rock Lititz and the upcoming Wilbur Hotel.

Tourism is a vital driver of the economy in Lititz. “We’re just short of 70 merchants downtown and with that many shops and restaurants in a town our size – they cannot just be supported by the people that live here,” says Holly.

Restaurants like Per Diem and Rooster Street Butcher fit right in with young foodies looking for a meal, while Stoll & Wolfe Distillery and Bulls Head Public House (consistently named best bar in Pennsylvania!) offer the best of libations and good times. 

With space to accommodate 74 guests, The Wilbur Hotel is set to have its first rooms available on September 23, 2019, says Holly. Also, in the historic building will be a new restaurant, the Blackworth, and the Market that will house stands from local vendors like Rooster Street Butcher and Waltz Vineyards.


Hotel Rock Lititz

OUTDOOR RECREATION

Emerging as a sector of tourism of its own, outdoor recreation takes advantage of Lancaster County’s natural green spaces especially along the Susquehanna River. With the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and the Warwick-to-Lititz Rail Trail, millennials can spend their time active during the day and hit the town as the sun sets.

Kayaking on the Susquehanna, biking on beautiful country roads, and running on trails along the river are becoming more common as the County invests more time and funds into developing natural recreational spaces. There is a lot more potential there, Randy says.

KEY ATTRACTIONS

“You’re not going to find a Zoetropolis maybe anywhere else” says Cheila Huettner, Partner at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse. The independent movie theatre that opened its doors in 1996 has recently evolved into a full-service restaurant and bar and distillery while also creating an enclave of entertainment on North Water Street in Lancaster City. Their building and outdoor courtyard also houses Columbia Kettleworks 2nd Gear and La Cocina Mexican restaurant.

Zoetropolis shows independent art house, foreign, and documentary films. “It’s stuff you will not find at the block buster movies” says Cheila. While the films attract an audience from all over the tri-state area, millennial travelers looking for a unique experience will find it at Zoetropolis and its neighbor businesses.

Other unique attractions millennials should flock to are the Lil’ Country Store and Miniature Horse Farm in Ronks where one cannot only pet and interact with miniature horses, but also interact with an Amish-owned and operated farm and business, says Long. Another one-of-a-kind location to check out is the Tiny Estates in Elizabethtown, a hotel of premier tiny homes.


Miniature Horse Farm

ADVENTURES AWAIT

In keeping what’s old alive and creating exciting new attractions, Lancaster County has kept true to its roots of what has always drawn visitors, authenticity. While tourism in Lancaster County shifts to offer unique experiences to younger generations, there is no question the charm of what’s old remains central to attracting visitors of all ages.

Millennials looking to have an authentic experience full of rich tradition and fresh new opportunities can look to Lancaster County as their destination.

With an assortment of incredible options, Lancaster truly has a kaleidoscope of possibilities for the modern millennial traveler.

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