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Big-top events spur tourism spending in Montgomery County

May 15, 2019

Source, Philadelphia Business Journal, Kenneth Hilario

Cirque du Soleil, Big Apple Circus and the King of Prussia Mall are helping Montgomery County tourism spending inch closer to the $2 billion mark.

And there’s more to come, including a professional-level climbing facility that could attract Olympic athletes.

Tourism spending in the suburban county in 2018 hit nearly $1.65 billion — over 5% more than the previous year, according to Tourism Economics. Spending supported 200,000 jobs.

Visitation, based on hotel room nights, grew to over 2.1 million, which is a 21% increase from 2011, showing long-term growth in Montgomery County hotels.

Major developments led to tourism growth, including events like Cirque du Soleil, which in 2018 held its first production in Montgomery County. A “big top” show can generate between $14 million and $20 million, based on analysis by Cirque du Soleil.

It’s set to come back this summer, a year earlier than the company planned, due to the strong performance of last summer’s “Volta” show.

This year, New York’s Big Apple Circus and the Harlem Globetrotters and others will join Cirque. These events generate a combined $1.3 million in impact, according to the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board.

Big Apple Circus will hire 25 local laborers to set up production, which will run May 18 to June 16 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.

“During the five-week run, we will hire six local performers, 10 locals to work with us in concessions and about five bartenders, plus local security guards,” said Shoshana Fisher, vice president of brand development at Big Apple Circus. “Most of the local performers we are hiring are students from the Philadelphia School for Circus.”

The company will also work with the advocacy nonprofit Arc of Philadelphia to hire concessions and front-of-house staff.

“We’ve never experienced large-scale arts and culture events of this magnitude, but we see that there’s clearly a demand for it, and we have the capacity for it,” said Mike Bowman, president of the tourism board. “We’re also seeing the growth and expansion of corporate businesses in the region, and as that industry continues to come to Montco, overnight stays grow also.”

Data analytics company Qlik in 2018 relocated to King of Prussia from Delaware County because of its proximity to restaurants, hotels and growth in technology companies.

Upcoming Montgomery County developments include three hotels in 2019; the end of the $12 million renovation of the Valley Forge National Historical Park next year; and King of Prussia Mall renovations and additions.

Reach Climbing and Fitness, a 23,000-square-foot indoor rock climbing facility, will also open in June in Bridgeport.

It’s one of three East Coast facilities with amenities needed for professional climbing, according to the tourism board. It could potentially attract Olympic athletes, since climbing will be an Olympic sport in 2020.

The facility will host the 2019 USA Climbing Sport & Speed Youth National Championships in July, which is expected to generate between $500,000 and $700,000 in economic impact.

One of the areas benefiting from sustained tourism growth is King of Prussia, which has seen an increase in hotel room nights and increased spending on retail and dining as an indirect result, said Eric Goldstein, executive director of the King of Prussia District.

King of Prussia added three new hotels in the last seven years, and “tens of millions of dollars are being spent on renovations to keep pace with the increased demand,” Goldstein said. A fourth hotel broke ground this past month.

Retail companies, he said, recognize King of Prussia as an international tourism destination and “consistently choose King of Prussia, in part, because of tourism spending.”