LIGONIER, Pa. – In a week when America honors the powerful economic impact of the travel industry and Pennsylvania unveiled its new tourism brand, residents of the Laurel Highlands had many reasons to celebrate.

“Travel – a word in our world that can bring millions of smiles,” said Ann Nemanic, executive director of GO Laurel Highlands, the destination marketing organization for Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. “From family reunions, special celebrations, extended vacations and mini getaways, the Laurel Highlands provides a destination for all interests. Travel is essential on many levels, and GO Laurel Highlands is proud to showcase our partners and unique tourism assets, not just this week, but 365 days a year.  #NTTW24 is extra special this year as we announce the launch of our new website, a top-five finish as a USAToday Best Summer Travel Destination and an exciting designation as a Preferred Vacation Destination of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

DTN - HI - TTD - Ohiopyle Trading Post & River Tours

Travel's economic impact on the Laurel Highlands and beyond

“I would be remiss if I did not emphasize the importance of travel and tourism as an economic driver,” Nemanic said. “Visitor spending in the Laurel Highlands topped $1.9 billion annually with a double-digit 17% spending growth, surpassing the region’s pre-pandemic level. Over 14,500 jobs are attributed to our industry, a 7.3% increase. Our premier craft beverage program, the Laurel Highlands Pour Tour, attributed $2,264,670 in direct economic impact to Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties. Travel – one word delivering more than just a smile.”

National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW), the annual celebration of the industry’s critical role in powering our nation’s economy, communities and connections, started on Saturday and runs through Sunday.

Travel is a $2.8 trillion industry that supports nearly 15 million American jobs while fueling other important industries like manufacturing, health care and agriculture – all which depend on travel to generate business, spur innovation and support education.

On Monday, Gov. Josh Shapiro unveiled the commonwealth’s new marketing campaign, “Pennsylvania – The Great American Getaway.”

That label certainly fits the Laurel Highlands, which earlier this month was honored as one of the nation’s Best Summer Travel Destinations by USA Today 10Best. Last year, the organization honored Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County as the Best Fall Foliage Destination. The Great Allegheny Passage has been honored as one of the top recreational trails and several businesses in the region have earned top-10 finishes.

While outdoor recreation is one of the main factors that draws tourists to the Laurel Highlands, it’s far from the only reason to explore the three-county region. Cultural attractions, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is one of four Wright homes in the region – as well as art and history bring visitors to the Laurel Highlands.Touchstone Open House

How tourism impacts Touchstone Center for Crafts

Dean Simpson, marketing manager for Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, has seen an 85% increase in visitors from 2021 to 2023. This includes program participants, instructors, interns, events and visitors to Touchstone’s galleries.

“Our exhibitions consistently draw audiences from Canada and across the United States,” Simpson said. “While visiting, attendees explore local attractions, stay at nearby accommodations, and take advantage of dining and Pour Tour opportunities. Our instructors and participants often return to the area to visit again after realizing all that the area has to offer. In addition, several of our interns have relocated to the area.”

Simpson said GO Laurel Highlands has played a key role in that influx of visitors.

“GO LH is consistently one of our top referral sources,” he said. “Through the GO LH website, visitors guide, social media, partners and visitor centers, our involvement in the tourism industry significantly contributes to our success. Additionally, the marketing support from the Fayette County Tourism Grant program enables us to reach a broader audience by maintaining a consistent presence in industry publications, national conferences, print and digital advertising, and more. Without this support, our reach would be significantly diminished.”

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, located in Greensburg, gained national attention last year for the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Southwestern Pennsylvania exhibit, which used three-dimensional rendering technology from Skyline Ink Animators + Illustrators to create a virtual exploration of unrealized civic, commercial and residential projects designed by Wright from the 1930s through the 1950s. The exhibit is on view at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., through March 17, 2025.

Somerset County’s Chalk the Block, which is Western Pennsylvania’s oldest street painting festival, attracts artists from across the country. It will be held July 26-28, 2024, in Uptown Somerset.

Somerset's Chalk the Block attracts artists from across the country each summer.

Visitors to the Laurel Highlands

In addition to eight state parks and a pair of state forests, the Laurel Highlands is home to three National Parks Services sites: the Flight 93 National Memorial, Fort Necessity National Battlefield and Friendship Hill National Historic Site. The Allegheny Railroad National Historic Site and Johnstown Flood National Memorial are in nearby Cambria County.

GO Laurel Highlands works to attract visitors from within driving distance of the region and beyond. In the past year, representatives have attended trade shows in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., New York, Texas and Wisconsin. Visitors to Pittsburgh International Airport are greeted by images of the Laurel Highlands thanks to a marketing initiative there, and the organization has partnered with the Baltimore Ravens to attract visitors from that region as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose brand extends well beyond Pennsylvania.   

Sunrise as seen from Baughman Rock Overlook, Ohiopyle

About Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands

A magnificent mountainous region, the Laurel Highlands is an outdoors lover’s paradise that spans 3,000 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania. Located just an hour east of Pittsburgh, the beautiful four-season destination offers spectacular natural scenery, outstanding skiing, hiking, biking and golfing opportunities, historic sites and attractions, family activities and world-class resorts. Notable destinations within the region include four architectural masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright – Fallingwater®, Kentuck Knob, Mäntylä and Duncan House – as well as Nemacolin, Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Flight 93 National Memorial, Idlewild and Soak Zone, whitewater rafting in Ohiopyle State Park and much more.

Located within 200 miles of the major metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Washington D.C., Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands can be easily accessed from exits 67, 75, 91 and 110 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Visitors to the Laurel Highlands can find information online at Established in 1958, GO Laurel Highlands, formerly known as Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, is the official destination marketing organization for Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.