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To change someone’s perception of a brand takes time,” says Kathleen Frankford, president of Discover Lancaster. The brand she’s referring to is Lancaster County—a destination that attracts more than 8 million visitors every year.
What is now Discover Lancaster was founded in 1958 as a stand-alone organization originally called the Pennsylvania Dutch Tourist Bureau. By 1987, the name had changed to the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, or PA Dutch CVB for short. With a new rebrand in 2013, Discover Lancaster started changing perceptions of what people thought about Lancaster County.
Kathleen Frankford and her team are leading that change. Despite being an admitted introvert, she has never been one to back down from a challenge. She was born on an Air Force base in North Carolina; her father’s job moved her family to Arkansas and then to California. By age six, her parents had divorced and her mother eventually moved the family back to her own hometown in Pennsylvania. “I was so excited because I would finally get to see snow,” she says with a laugh. “I was thrilled to be moving to Pennsylvania and that first year there were many snowstorms.”
Growing up, Kathleen watched others closely and learned from them. She was good at noticing the thoughts and emotions of others and herself. She liked to read and write poems and essays, imagining herself as a businesswoman with piles of paperwork and a telephone in hand. “For whatever reason, I found that as I got older, I was drawn to things that were big challenges for me,” she remembers. Kathleen continued to challenge herself well into her college years as an undergrad at Millersville University and then in graduate school at Temple University.
“My happiest jobs have been with organizations where I was promoting something related to tourism,” she says. Hersheypark, American Music Theatre, The Whitaker Center—they all allowed her to deliver enriching, enjoyable experiences to others. Living with her husband and three children outside Harrisburg, Kathleen has a unique perspective on Lancaster because she appreciates everything that is here compared to the many other places she has lived, worked, and visited. “This destination really drew me—really just the challenge and the opportunity of broadening visitors’ perceptions. I love a good challenge,” she says.
For nearly two years, research from visitors, non-visitors, and focus groups centered on the prime markets of northern New Jersey, Long Island, and greater Philadelphia. What it revealed was that traveler interest rose noticeably when they discovered how much there truly is to see and do here.
Consequently, “Everything you expect and everything you didn’t” is Discover Lancaster’s new tagline. “Everything you expect,” meaning Amish, outlets, and family-style dining is now joined by “everything you didn’t,” meaning art galleries, nightlife, cool boutiques in walkable downtowns, outdoor sports and events, and fine dining.
Succeeding in this effort is a big deal, as tourism accounts for 24,000 local jobs and generates significant tax revenue—some $185 million in federal taxes and $189 million in state and local taxes. But the organization is well suited to maintain and expand this impact, with a track record of generating a return in visitor spending of $54 for every $1 it spends on marketing the county.
“Through its tax revenue, tourism saves each household in Lancaster about $1,000 per year,” Kathleen explains. “You would not have the wide array of wonderful shops, restaurants, and attractions available to you if it wasn’t for tourism.” Lancaster has got everything tourists want: history, the arts, the city, walkable small towns, outdoor recreation, family attractions, loads of foodie offerings, and distinctive shops. Discover Lancaster’s mission is to stimulate economic growth throughout Lancaster County by attracting visitors and inspiring them to Discover Lancaster and thus discover all these things.
“The Amish will always be the cornerstone of our brand, but it’s having all these other things in combination that make us so unique and special that other destinations do not have. And that will draw them in. So we’re trying to broaden that perception,” she summarizes.
Favorite place to have dinner on Friday night?
(With kids) TJ Rockwell’s. (With husband) Federal Taphouse for casual dining or Checkers for fine dining.
I love warm weather. I’m going to my younger brother’s wedding in Hawaii soon. Being in a beautiful place with people I love. I can’t imagine a better vacation than that.
What’s an Area in Lancaster that’s worth a second look?
The area along the Susquehanna River in Columbia and Marietta. I don’t think people realize all the dining, shopping, attraction, and recreational opportunities that exist there. Or Downtown Ephrata. It’s so charming and vibrant.
What’s something that people don’t know about you?
I’m an inherent introvert. People are often surprised.
What are you reading?
I always read a nonfiction and fiction book together. Right now, it’s "Five Levels of Leadership" by John C. Maxwell and "Triple" by Ken Follett.
What are the names of your pets?
Goldendoodle named Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Frankford and a Cockapoo named Ronald “Ronnie” Reagan Frankford. We love them.