VF Tourism & Convention Board

November 24, 2023 00:26:59
VF Tourism & Convention Board
Upper Merion Township Community Connections
VF Tourism & Convention Board

Nov 24 2023 | 00:26:59

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Show Notes

Chuck Kirlin sits down with Rachel Riley, Associate Vice President of Communications VF Tourism & Convention Board.
A world of adventures rich in American history awaits you in Valley Forge and Montgomery County, Pa. Located 18 miles from downtown Philadelphia. Our region is home to not only must-see historical sites but also tons of family attractions, a vibrant arts scene, shopping malls, golf, outdoor activities, and so much more!
https://www.valleyforge.org/
610-834-7990

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Episode Transcript

00;00;00;00 - 00;00;31;02 Unknown Hello and welcome to this edition of Community Connections. I'm your host, Chuck Curl, and today we are discussing everything we can learn about the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board with the Associate Vice President, Rachel Riley. Welcome to the program, Rachel. Thanks so much for having me. It's good to be here. It's great to have you. And since you are the I guess, the associate vice president of communications, tell us a little bit about your role and how you got involved in it here in Valley Forge. 00;00;31;05 - 00;00;52;18 Unknown Sure. So as the associate vice president of communications here, I oversee public relations, government relations, social media and arts and culture and kind of everything that falls underneath or in between those things. But I actually got involved here. I went to school for English literature, and my dean told me, Study what you love. You'll figure out something to do with it later. 00;00;52;18 - 00;01;12;25 Unknown So I did. Wow. And I actually became a reporter. I was a journalist for ten years, so I would write stories. I started with print. I worked for a company called Calkins Media. So we did stories for the Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer and Burlington and New Jersey. So I started with print. I moved to digital, and then we actually kicked off and launched a video platform there. 00;01;13;02 - 00;01;31;26 Unknown So I would do videos every week, and that eventually turned into a newscast where we would do kind of something similar here every day. And then I kind of got to that point where I was at a personal place in my life, kind of want to settle down with family. And, you know, either I was going towards TV or I had to kind of figure out something else to do. 00;01;31;26 - 00;01;59;00 Unknown And I had worked with the tourism board in Bucks visit Bucks County, and it was always fun. They were always doing fun things. So I, you know, explored an opportunity with them. So I worked with them for a few years, kind of a it's a smaller organization, so lots of different hats. So I was doing some of what I'm doing now, but also marketing and research, Google Analytics, some graphic stuff, some social stuff, some back end website stuff. 00;01;59;02 - 00;02;27;16 Unknown So I was doing lots of different things. So it was a long commute. So because I'm from the Northeast, but I now live in Limerick, so there's a long commute from western might go to like Eastern bucks County. So I this opportunity came up at the tourism board and it actually started out as a media relations manager, communications and media relations manager and PR and I wasn't really sure about it because my my girlfriend always told me you should do PR, She was a fellow journalist with me, and she said, You should do PR. 00;02;27;16 - 00;02;51;00 Unknown And I'm like, I don't know, because you're a journalist. PR People can be tough. Yeah, you're like, now they're in the way that, you know. So I was like, I don't know. And she always told me I'd be great at it. So I was a little nervous too, to make that move. But it's been great. And I and I've grown here and evolved so much into titles and promotions, but also what I oversee and growing our staff specifically on my team and in our department. 00;02;51;02 - 00;03;11;20 Unknown So it's really great. And I really I love what I do and I love promoting Montgomery County PR It's just an awesome, fun job and utilizes different skills and strengths on my part and but I still learn something every day, which is so fun. Now I'm just curious because you made the transition from Fox to Monaco. Was was it a big transition? 00;03;11;20 - 00;03;31;17 Unknown Like were you a little like saying, Wow, this is I'm going from like a a smaller area to a bigger area? What was that transition like? It was a big transition because Buck's is smaller. It's probably half the size in terms of staff and budget. So I was going somewhere bigger. No longer big fish in a little pond, right? 00;03;31;18 - 00;03;51;00 Unknown Living in a big pond. So it was a big transition, but it was closer to home and it was it was going to be a challenge. It was doing some different things and working with different staff, learning a whole new county. I had worked in. Buck's not just for Visit Buck's, but as a journalist for so long. So I knew a lot of different things about the county people, places, all of that stuff. 00;03;51;04 - 00;04;08;24 Unknown So I had to come here and really learn everything from scratch. But I really wanted that opportunity and I like the challenge of learning something new. So it definitely was an adjustment, but in a in a good way, in the best way possible, right? It was like it's almost like putting a puzzle together when you're in a new county trying to figure out where everything is. 00;04;08;24 - 00;04;29;18 Unknown And I'm curious, did you learn what was the, I guess, the center of Montgomery County? You said? Right. This is an area where I should really concentrate on because everything's with a mushroom out from it all. I mean, I definitely think King of Prussia and Upper Merion Township, of course, is that like central hub because it's almost like a little city metropolis right in our suburban county. 00;04;29;21 - 00;05;00;06 Unknown Geographically, all roads lead to. K Okay, right to and from. So that's definitely a central a central place. But one of the the great things but also challenges of my job and our organization at the tourism board is we have to promote the whole county. So we use that Valley Forge name because it's nationally and internationally known and there are 18 Montgomery counties in the United States including ah, so we we use that name for name brand recognition and to avoid confusion, but we really still have to promote the whole county. 00;05;00;13 - 00;05;20;27 Unknown So we can certainly start in copy and there's there's tons going on here, but we do have to branch out and get to, you know, Ambler and Pottstown and everything in between. Yeah, that was a good point because I know you do have a large geography to cover. Is your staff starting to expand as well to the pickup or are you picking up a lot of the slack? 00;05;21;00 - 00;05;43;27 Unknown Yeah. I mean, Marco is the third largest county in Pennsylvania behind Allegheny, which has Pittsburgh. And then Philadelphia, of course, is number one. So it is it's a big job. I mean, we're we're we're like a city, right? And there's it's huge, almost a million people. And it's physically large to get from one end to another. We were we had been growing in terms of staff with our organization pre-COVID. 00;05;43;27 - 00;06;07;26 Unknown But when the pandemic hit, you know, obviously some tourism elements came to a halt. I was pretty it was pretty tough on our industry. So we had to adjust. So I think we're starting to grow back again. You know, within the last year or two, we're seeing more events come back. So we're definitely seeing that go in in a more positive direction, seeing tourism numbers recover and bounce back, which is great to see. 00;06;07;26 - 00;06;32;29 Unknown So I think once we have that in a better place, our staff will kind of go back to those other numbers and continue to grow. But we just streamlined and just made it more efficient. So I think it's just about having the right people at the table and and making everybody's lanes just a little bit bigger and expanding on what they can do and their strengths to make sure that we're streamlining the process and everyone's being efficient, as efficient as possible. 00;06;33;02 - 00;06;59;08 Unknown Yeah, and efficiency is a big key and that's my next question. And do you get invited to a lot of board meetings in the area so they can have your input saying this is how we would promote certain things? Is that something that you've been dealing a lot with? Yeah, So there's lots of members of our staff who are on different boards, whether it's on the sales side, like, you know, meeting planners organization for them and Philadelphia on the south Side or down on our end, we're involved with some chambers. 00;06;59;10 - 00;07;26;05 Unknown I personally am on the Monaco Anti-hunger Network board, so you know all about fighting hunger, hunger and ending hunger. So we're definitely involved in different things. I'm also on the King of Prussia District Marketing Committee, so we help support them and provide input or help promote what they're doing too, because of course, co-op again is a big piece of Marco and me and we want to be involved in that central hub, make sure we're supporting and promoting what's going on here. 00;07;26;07 - 00;07;48;15 Unknown But so we definitely do do have some involvement. We try to be strategic with key partners because there are lots of boards and organizations and we want to know what's going on. But we have a smaller staff, so we can't necessarily, unfortunately be everywhere at once. Right, Right. That's always the case, I'm sure. But as you mentioned, all roads lead the King of Prussia. 00;07;48;18 - 00;08;14;29 Unknown That must be something that knowing this area now, you must have really concentrated heavily on and you were able to expand from that. Do you find that it's been beneficial? Yeah. I mean, I think it's it's beneficial working here in King of Prussia and Upper Merion Township because there is so much that is here and it's really grown over the last few years with the town center, even the expansions, different stores coming to the mall, new restaurants coming in. 00;08;15;05 - 00;08;33;21 Unknown So I think knowing that and then you can kind of expand and grow out from there and learn about all the different main streets, because we've got 62 towns here in the county. It's great. So if someone was looking for more information, how would they go about getting. Absolutely, yeah. Check out Valley Forge dot org. Tons of tons of great information on our awesome website. 00;08;33;24 - 00;08;54;27 Unknown One thing I forgot to ask you do have a team on you. Give us an idea of their background and how they participate in your organization. Sure. I know I talked a little bit about my role and we do have a sales component, but just so everyone understands the tourism board's kind of job, we are the DMO, which is the destination marketing organization for Montgomery County. 00;08;54;29 - 00;09;16;07 Unknown So our job is to have we have a sales side and a marketing side. So our sales folks travel all across the country and sometimes even the world to try to trade shows, conferences, to try to get folks who are holding sports tournaments or corporate meetings or different association groups to come here to stay overnight in the county, because our organization is funded by the hotel tax. 00;09;16;10 - 00;09;38;07 Unknown And then we have the marketing side. We are a nonprofit. We're a501c6a we we're not a charitable, you know, charity group that distributes money, but we use we have to use all the funds, right? So we use the money that our sales team brings them to them, promote our county. So we have a whole marketing division. We do graphic design in house website, we do lots of research in house. 00;09;38;07 - 00;10;02;25 Unknown And then of course, my team that I spoke about, lots of content, public relations and social media. So our organization is member based, so we have over 500 members and that represents a ton of different categories in the county. And it's really just a representation of it because, for example, we have 1800 restaurants and what we call our market makers in the county, which is our breweries, our wineries and distilleries. 00;10;03;01 - 00;10;28;22 Unknown So we have probably a couple hundred of those that are members. We have 50 golf courses here, We have 200 arts and culture venues, more than almost 100 miles of trails, dozens of parks, dozens of historic sites, family friendly places. So lots of different pieces that we represent, so that those are our members. And what we do is we promote them so they have representation on our website and publications that we do. 00;10;28;22 - 00;10;53;14 Unknown We might talk about them on social to the press and we just make sure that we're promoting what they're doing and supporting their businesses because it's all about driving traffic to their business, whether it's an attraction, a hotel or a restaurant. And then we want folks to stay overnight and come back. Right. Like it's all about that, too, whether it's local or regional or out of state or even, you know, across the country. 00;10;53;16 - 00;11;17;21 Unknown Want folks to come here and feel welcome in. You know, you mentioned something about sales, sales in Montgomery County. A lot of corporations are based in this vicinity. I'm curious, do they ever reach out to you and try to bring their sales teams into into this area? Because there's so much to do. And I'm wondering, transportation, I know all roads lead here, but a lot of people have to fly in. 00;11;17;25 - 00;11;43;14 Unknown Has that ever been an obstacle? I wouldn't say an obstacle. I would say it's an opportunity. Right. Because we we are a very drivable destination, but we have tons of folks who we do have an international piece. We work with Chester County and what Philadelphia and what we call the country side of Philadelphia. So we do promote our area internationally, you know, overseas as a place to visit, whether it's for trade or leisure and consumer. 00;11;43;21 - 00;12;04;14 Unknown So we definitely have folks that fly in to the airport, of course, and then they can get an Uber, they can get a cab or they can rent a car and head out to the burbs, specifically Montgomery County. Great location, great spot, very accessible. Yeah. So I think it's it's it's an opportunity, right? Like we're not necessarily a flyable destination. 00;12;04;20 - 00;12;32;25 Unknown You're not flying into Monaco, Right. But you can fly nearby and it's close enough that you can head out here. And in terms of like the corporate that you were asking about, this is a big area for corporate headquarters, specifically life sciences. Huge opportunity there. We do partner with a lot of life sciences in Montgomery County and around, you know, to bring their meetings here, team building here, you know, executive C-suite kind of level groups coming in and trainings, things like that. 00;12;32;25 - 00;12;55;26 Unknown Because again, it's all about making, you know, bringing in those groups to stay overnight. And part of the attraction of Monaco is there's so much to do. And we see groups like that participate in what's called leisure, right? Because they're coming here for business, but they might make a little pleasure in. So they might come early or stay a little longer and maybe bring the family because there is such a variety of things to do. 00;12;55;29 - 00;13;21;07 Unknown And without all that variety. I'm just curious, you would know better at hotels. Is there enough hotel space in Montgomery County? We have eight over 80 hotels here, which is about 9400 rooms. And with the inventory that's coming in over the next couple of years, we have a couple more kind of in the pipeline. We'll probably get to almost 10,000 rooms in the county within the next several years or so. 00;13;21;07 - 00;13;45;11 Unknown So, you know, the demand is there and we've got some great new properties, like there's one down the main line there is the brand new one in County, the Hotel West in Maine. But we also have a lot of our hotels have done a lot of renovations and improvements over the years. I mean, just invested millions of dollars to expand meeting space or renovate rooms or, you know, lobby space, things like that. 00;13;45;11 - 00;14;06;26 Unknown So there we have a big inventory and it's really first class like world class spaces that you can stay here in Monaco, high profile brands that are here from Marriott to Hilton. So it's definitely a great place to stay. That's nice. And when hotels are in place, then restaurants become a big issue because everybody's looking for a good place to eat. 00;14;06;26 - 00;14;25;25 Unknown You always need. Right. Right. And then sporting sports events go along with that, too, because especially sports was always kind of like a big business for us, group business. And I think with the pandemic youth sports specifically, there has been such an opportunity between that and new sports. I mean, there's so many sports, it's just like it's not just, you know, football, soccer, baseball. 00;14;25;27 - 00;14;49;23 Unknown It's pickleball spike ball. It's, you know, things that I never even heard of. It's it's things that I did as a kid, cheerleading, gymnastics, breakdancing. You know, kickball is coming to Moscow. So there's so much opportunity because, again, lots of youth coming in or athletes and they want things to do. And then it's great for the hotels. You know, they have places to stay and then you always need to eat, right? 00;14;49;23 - 00;15;12;14 Unknown My both my boys play hockey and we go away to tournaments. That is like the number one thing that you're looking for a place to eat and something to do right in between the games. So and Marco has that. We have so much to offer and that and that's what I think I was hedging towards, since there are a lot of restaurants, do they reach out to you saying, Hey, would you like to come in and see what we have to offer so you could help promote our business? 00;15;12;18 - 00;15;29;16 Unknown Yeah. And actually, since COVID, we started what's called Krav Maga Month, and that's one of the reasons we did that. We know there were two things that we started kind of after the pandemic, because we noticed two sectors that really were hard hit. And the first one was restaurants. We started Crave Moscow Month. Crave is our like dining brand. 00;15;29;16 - 00;15;52;16 Unknown We do an annual guide every year. So again, represent because we have so many restaurants. And the great thing is the variety. I think it's so eclectic. We have everything from those big, really well-known names like Founding Farmers, right coming here. But we also have great little mainstream small mom and pop places where you can't you can get the best something and you can't get it anywhere else. 00;15;52;16 - 00;16;14;13 Unknown And it's a great story and their faces of their neighborhood and it's just delicious, right? So we they definitely come to us and want exposure and promotion, specifically with marketing, social media, public relations. We get a lot of requests with the press of, you know, it's National Taco Day or what have you. Where can we go to do a fun segment and eat some really good tacos, that kind of thing. 00;16;14;15 - 00;16;38;05 Unknown So we we noticed that they were heavily impacted after COVID because they'd been doing so much for us, curbside delivery, all that kind of stuff. They were adjusting. So we made sure that we were promoting them. So instead of a restaurant week, you know, we times it by four and kind of put it on steroids a little bit because there's so many and gave everyone a month to enjoy all the restaurants here and we did it in July, and we do it every July now. 00;16;38;05 - 00;16;56;05 Unknown And so next year will be our fourth in 2024 because it's it can be a slower month for restaurants because it's after the graduation and the Father's Day and Mother's Day and it's summertime. Folks are might be away for vacation. So we just we got that feedback and we use it to help give them great exposure. 00;16;56;05 - 00;26;59;05

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