By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience | Image: Group Tour on the Explorer Riverboat
National Travel and Tourism Week
Let me be the first to wish you a Happy National Travel and Tourism Week! This annual celebration honors the lifechanging effects that tourism has on travelers, along with the livelihood the industry provides for employees and local economies. One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the devastation of the travel industry. Trips have been cancelled on a massive scale. Restaurants, hotels, and attractions have been shuttered. At the moment, our focus needs to be on navigating the new normal rather than charting a new destination. As such, the theme of National Travel and Tourism Week this year is the Spirit of Travel—and that it cannot be broken.
While I love a grand getaway, in many ways it’s the quick escapes close to home that have had the biggest impact on my life. A night out for dinner and a show at a local community theater packs just as much culture and culinary delight as Broadway, with the added bonus of being awed by the level of talent and passion that my own neighbors bring to the stage. The tapestry of global markets, shops, and festivals in the region reveal new cultures and ways of life—taking me from Mexico to the Middle East in an afternoon, while also reminding me of the strength and sacrifice of the immigrant communities that have given our region a strong sense of place. It’s hard to go more than a few hundred feet around here without coming across a historic marker to stop and ponder. A lunchbreak walk around Homestead takes me past too many to count! And disappearing into one of the State Parks or trails for a walk in nature is the quickest and most effective way I know to reset my outlook. Entertainment, education, cultural appreciation, eye-opening experiences, rejuvenation—that’s the Spirit of Travel to me, and it’s alive and well right here in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
As a lifelong resident, I often marvel at how lucky I am to live in southwestern Pennsylvania. And as Rivers of Steel’s manager of tourism and visitor experience, I often tell tour operators how lucky their travelers would be to visit southwestern Pennsylvania! I work with them to design itineraries and orchestrate trips for groups traveling throughout the region. These experiences are shaped around a wide array of group interests: art, architecture, history, ethnic groups and ancestry, food and spirits, outdoor adventure, literature, seasonal sightseeing, and many more affinities. Rivers of Steel’s most popular tour, Babushkas and Hard Hats, gets to the heart of the Steel Town story by visiting sites that illuminate the ways industry and immigration have shaped our region. A highlight of the tour is a from-scratch meal served with love by Iron Oven. On the menu are stuffed cabbage, halušky, pierogis, and a Pittsburgh cookie table sampler. The smells and flavors never fail to evoke reminiscences of Grandma’s cooking. Keeping the past alive and creating new memories—that’s another part of the Spirit of Travel.
The elements of an itinerary would be meaningless without the ambassadors who bring their stories to life. In every corner of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, there are history buffs, artists, performers, cooks, art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, sports fans and locals whose passion and hospitality are a tangible part of the Spirit of Travel. Their authenticity and hard work are also an integral aspect of the local economy. Across the commonwealth, travel and tourism supported one out of every fifteen workers in 2017. That same year, travelers spent nearly $8.2 billion in Pittsburgh and its Countryside, and the travel industry employed 8.8% of the region’s workers. And in our own Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, a 2013 economic impact study found that tourism and visitation related to our organization’s efforts had an annual economic impact of nearly $67 million and an annual employment impact of about 875 jobs. These spirited workers and small businesses need support right now.
Many have imagined the various ways that travel—and everything—will be different in the post-COVID-19 world. Travelers will be more tentative at first. The health and safety measures will be more visible. The smiles on our faces may be covered by facemasks. What it will look like is yet to be determined, but I’m certain that at its core the Spirit of Travel will remain the same. In the coming week, we invite you to check out our social media pages daily to see how Rivers of Steel keeps that spirit alive throughout the Heritage Area.
And if you would like support Rivers of Steel’s work in the region, we invite you to participate in Giving Tuesday Now, this week on May 5, 2020. Click here to learn more about donating to Rivers of Steel on that day and how your gift will go further.
Guide to Images
All images by Brianna Horan
Feature image: Tour Group on the Explorer Riverboat
Image 1: Country roads in Greene County, Pa.
Image 2: Cookie table for a Babushkas & Hard Hats lunch by Iron Oven
Image 3: A tour guide at Rodef Shalom Congregation shares the story of a sacred Torah with a group of visitors.