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Discover Lehigh Valley Highlights a Year in Tourism ‘for the Record Books’

By Colin McEvoy on November 15, 2018

Michael Stershic was honored for his 14-year run as President of Discover Lehigh Valley.

Michael Stershic was honored for his 14-year run as President of Discover Lehigh Valley. (courtesy photo)

Michael Stershic was honored for his 14-year run as President of Discover Lehigh Valley during the organization’s annual meeting on Nov. 13, and he is heading into retirement during a year for the record books in terms of tourism for the region.

The fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, saw a record high in terms of number of rooms sold (1,544,450), and occupancy was 71 percent, and visitor spending has increased from $1.03 billion to $2.2 billion over the course of Stershic’s tenure.

Stershic noted that in 2004, hotels operators said the Lehigh Valley was doing well during the week, but weekends “needed some work.” Today, on average, revenue per available room is 20 percent higher on weekends than it is during the week.

“We made a difference, we moved the needle, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Stershic said to a crowd of 225 people at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. “Many more people are visiting the Lehigh Valley, and are visiting more often, because every time they come here, they discover something else that they want to see and do.”

Occupancy for the year ending June 30 was 71 percent, just under the previous year’s 71.3 percent, with the revenue per available room sitting at an impressive $73.86, according to Kassie Hilgert, President & CEO of ArtsQuest and chair of the LVEDC board.

Room tax collections for the fiscal year showed that the two counties of Lehigh and Northampton generated over $2.6 million. The number of hotel rooms sold increased 52 percent and revenue per available room jumped 60 percent.

“This has been a great year by any measure,” Hilgert said.

Discover Lehigh Valley builds the region’s economy and image through destination marketing that increases the number of leisure and business visitors, the number of nights they stay, and the number of things they do in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

Michael Stershic (right) and Alex Michaels, who has been selected as his successor for President of Discover Lehigh Valley.

Michael Stershic (right) and Alex Michaels, who has been selected as his successor for President of Discover Lehigh Valley. (courtesy photo)

Stershic had been President of the organization for 14 years over the course of two stints, from 1985 to 1987, and again from 2004 to present. He announced his intention to retire in March, and a search committee selected Alex Michaels to replace him as President.

Michaels, a 1987 graduate of Whitehall High School, has more than 25 years of executive sales and management experience within the hospitality and tourism, and sports council industries. He most recently worked as vice president of sales and services for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge and as chief operating officer for Virginia’s Blue Ridge Sports Council.

“Discover Lehigh Valley works tirelessly each day with passion, and I’m so excited to be inheriting this group that Mike has developed,” Michaels said. “I look forward to working with each and every one of you in this room in the future to continue to propel this destination to heights that we’ve never imagined.”

Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Council (LVEDC), served on the search committee to identify Stershic’s replacement. Cunningham also sits on the Discover Lehigh Valley board, and Stershic serves on the LVEDC Board of Directors as well.

In the sports market, Discover Lehigh Valley welcomed 41 events during the 2017-18 fiscal year, bringing an estimated 42,570 athletes to the region. In the meetings market, the organization made connections with over 900 planners through 25 events, resulting in a total of 53 event leads.

The 2017-18 fiscal year also marked the first full year of the newly developed website, which saw an increase in visitors of 54.1% over the previous year. The team secured 444 media placements with total impressions reaching a staggering 18.6 million, Stershic said.

Discover Lehigh Valley also announced the organization’s annual awards during the event. The Zeith Award, which goes to the meeting or convention with the largest attendance or economic impact, was awarded to Mack Trucks for its Global Dealers Summit.

Held at the PPL Center in Allentown from September 15 to 17, the event marked the unveiling of Mack’s new Anthem truck model, and had an estimated economic impact of $1.2 million for the Lehigh Valley, Stershic said.

The Discover Lehigh Valley Tourism Award was presented to Vault 634, the Jaindl Properties luxury event venue at the historic Lehigh Valley Trust Building in Allentown. The Partnership Award went to Learfield’s Mountain Hawks Sports Properties, the multimedia rights partners for Lehigh University.

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