This past weekend, my oldest had his last lacrosse tournament of the season down in Pennsylvania. Trish and I decided to make a mini vacation out of it, so on early Friday morning we packed up the mini van with our three boys and our pseudo-son (Gavin’s best friend and teammate) and headed out. The tournament was a one-dayer on Sunday in a large suburb of Philadelphia. Hershey, PA was about an hour and a half from the fields so we decided to spend two nights there.
At its core, Hershey is a manufacturing town. It is where all of the delicious milk chocolate I try not to eat is produced. The reason it is there is because over a hundred years ago Milton Hershey needed to set up shop where he could get fresh milk. Cocoa beans could travel, but without refrigeration, the cows had to be close by. I know all of this because the town’s second industry is tourism, which revolves directly around their main export. The tourism draw at Hershey continues to grow as more and more businesses and entrepreneurs set up shop to capture some of the markets drawn to established attractions like the World of Chocolate and Hersheypark.
I was last there five years ago and was surprised by the number of new breweries, niche food shops (the Jerky House was amazing!) and high end restaurants that were now prevalent around town. The town has always done a great job catering to families and now is working on capturing the older “foodie” tourist. Cooking classes, chocolate beer, behind the scenes factory tours and even a chocolate making class taught by Hershey employees were just some of the things I saw available. Hershey is a shining example of successful destination development. Business investment continues to grow their tourism markets so that they can remain relevant to traditional and new audiences. And who benefits most? The residents of Hershey, who have incredible restaurants, shopping experiences, sports and entertainment at their fingertips in a place that, when first incorporated, was quite literally in the middle of nowhere.
After the games on Sunday, we drove into the heart of Philadelphia for the evening. It had been a long, cold day of lacrosse and the only thing on our “to do” list was to get an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. I had done some research and learned that Pat’s King of Steaks could be traced back to the inventor of the cheesesteak. Right across the road from them is Geno’s, who claim to have the best sandwich in Philly. Armed with this info, we went to the lobby of the hotel to ask for walking directions to those restaurants “because,” I told Anita at the front desk. “I read they were the two best places in town”. Anita proceeded to tell us that yes, Pat’s and Geno’s served very good cheesesteaks but, because of their famous history, had become quite “touristy”. She said she understood completely why we would want to go there and was prepared to provide the walking directions. “However,” she said, “if you are looking for an authentic place that serves incredible cheesesteaks mainly to locals, you have to go Jim’s Steaks. It is also closer.”
Well, that sealed the deal and we headed off through the old part of Philly to Jim’s which sits at the corner of 4th and South. Jim’s is a no-frills place. You lined up, placed your order, paid and then hoped there was a table upstairs to eat at. In line there were a few construction workers, an employee of some hotel, a few people that could have been tourists and a group of three men dressed in suits that had pulled up in a Mercedes worth at least $100K. The boys, Trish and I ordered our sandwiches from the chef who cooked them right there while chatting with us and then he tossed each sandwich down the line to the person who put additional topping on before landing at the cash register. Luckily, we got two tables upstairs and bit into our incredible sandwiches, made that much better by the atmosphere and authenticity of the experience.
We never would have this incredible memory if it wasn’t for Anita, who put a personal touch on our vacation. It is often easy to overlook the people that could have an influence on the success of your business. I have no idea whether Anita is just a fan of Jim’s Steaks or if Jim’s Steaks has done a great job of showcasing their food experience to hotel staff. The tourism professional in me actually hopes it is the second, because it shows that Jim’s Steaks has a great business sense and understands how to grow their business using the available tools – in this case, hotel staff that get asked daily for recommendations. Even if it meant having to provide a sandwich to Anita as a way of introducing their restaurant, the ROI just from our family was six times the cost.
Successful businesses aren’t successful by accident. They take advantage of all of the opportunities available to them to help them grow. It takes consistent investment of time and effort. We have lots of hotels, with lots of staff who are asked for a lot of recommendations. Do they know your business? What local businesses can you start to work with to push traffic back and forth to increase your revenues and build a destination? Get enough businesses promoting each other in the same area and suddenly you have a consumer and tourist destination that will drive even more people through you door. The possibilities are endless.