- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh has its big-city skyline and quaint ethnic neighborhoods, its nationally loved sports teams and its eclectic museum collections of prehistoric bones, innovative glassworks and fine art.

That and so much more draws visitors to the city and Allegheny County, where tourist foot traffic yields more than $5 billion in travel-related spending annually, making tourism a key component of the local economy.

The same can be said of the region outside Allegheny County, according to the teams of people who work there to promote events and attractions such as the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler County, the historic Old Economy Village in Beaver County, the covered bridges of Washington and Greene counties, and Fort Ligonier Days in Westmoreland County.

“There’s so much to do and see throughout the entire region - so many reasons to come and stay awhile,” said Patti Jo Lambert of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau.

Pennsylvania and anyone who cares about its fortunes are grateful to the travelers and to those who lure them here, said Lyndsay Kensinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Community & Economic Development, which oversees the state’s office of travel, tourism and film.

“Tourism remains one of the top industries in Pennsylvania - a major economic impact,” Kensinger said, noting that 6.5 percent of the state’s total employment - 470,953 individual jobs - were pegged to the industry in 2012.

More than 100 pages of statistics are collected annually by the state on travel and tourism, and the numbers show a thriving and growing segment of the economy, divided into two regions in southwestern Pennsylvania: “Pittsburgh & Its Countryside” comprised of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence and Washington counties, and the “Laurel Highlands,” covering Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.

The “tourism economics” analysis commissioned by the community and economic development department reported:

- Tourist spending in Pennsylvania rose from $37 billion in 2011 to $38.4 billion in 2012, generating $67 billion in total economic activity throughout all industries in 2012. The state’s entire travel and tourism economy in terms of gross domestic product was 5 percent of the state’s entire economy. (GDP measures the locally produced value of goods and services.)

- In 2012, travelers spent more than $7.5 billion in the Pittsburgh & Its Countryside region, a 7 percent increase from 2011, and nearly $1.8 billion in the Laurel Highlands region, a 2.1 percent increase from 2011.

- Spending by county in 2012 was led by Allegheny with $5.5 billion, followed by Westmoreland, $746 million; Washington, $741 million; Fayette, $644 million; Butler, $579 million; Somerset, $379 million; Beaver, $245 million; Indiana, $184 million; Lawrence, $119 million; Armstrong, $90 million; and Greene, $80 million.

VisitPittsburgh, the agency that promotes tourism and travel for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and which works with its sister promotion agencies throughout the region, reports more and more events and attractions throughout the region to publicize each year. The interrelationship between those promotion agencies is one of the keys to the success of their combined efforts.

Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh, said Pittsburgh’s countryside has assets that attract visitors to the region. “Visitors don’t know where Allegheny County ends or Butler County begins or where the boundary is between Butler and Mercer counties,” he said. “When visitors come, in their mind, they often think they visited ‘Pittsburgh,’ even when they are sometimes in other counties,”

Lambert echoed the comment.

“Travelers do not know borders. It just makes sense that we all work together and collaborate so that if someone wants to experience Downtown Pittsburgh, they know that, just 20 minutes to the north, they can experience Butler County, from our beautiful Moraine (state park) to our charming downtown Butler to our small towns and our rural, agricultural areas,” she said.

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