Study: Heritage Tourism Had $2 Billion Impact in State

Pitt-Johnstown

posted February 22, 2016


Heritage tourism had an economic impact in excess of $2 billion in Pennsylvania in 2014 according to a study by a research team from the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, the university announced today. 

“The research team learned how hard heritage organizations are working to promote tourism across the Commonwealth – and their efforts are paying big economic dividends,” said Pitt-Johnstown Associate Professor or Marketing John McGrath, the lead researcher on the project.

The study, “The Economic Impact of Pennsylvania Heritage Areas,” found that tourists spent an estimated $2 billion for goods and services in Pennsylvania’s 12 Designated Heritage Areas (DHAs) in 2014. The total contribution of heritage visitor spending to the state’s economy was 25,708 jobs and $798 million in labor income. Within the Allegheny Ridge heritage area alone, the study estimated that visitors spent $66 million on goods and services in 2014, supporting 699 full and part-time jobs and nearly $21 million in labor income.

The project was authorized by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at the urging of state Sen. John N. Wozniak (D-Cambria/Clearfield/Bedford).  Wozniak, who is the vice-chair of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and 1978 graduate of Pitt-Johnstown, said it was important to understand the depth of tourism’s impact on job creation and economic development in his district and throughout Pennsylvania.

“The study reinforced my view that heritage tourism is a critical part of Pennsylvania’s economic fabric,” Wozniak said.  “The study found a strong relationship between tourism, job creation and business development.

“There are many tourist stops in my district and this study proves that visitors are spending money here and are an important part of our economy.”

The objective of the research was to estimate the economic impact that DHAs have on their home communities and the commonwealth in general. There are 12 DHAs in Pennsylvania, including the Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area, which comprises historical, cultural and recreational sites in Wozniak’s area.

“The collaboration between researchers and faculty at Pitt-Johnstown and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania demonstrates that efforts to expand the tourism footprint here in our area will pay immense dividends,” Wozniak said.  “That’s why it’s important to upgrade the Johnstown train station, better utilize the airport and increase access to venues in Clearfield, Cambria and Bedford counties.”

To complete the study, a research team including Pitt-Johnstown faculty members and students employed a mixed qualitative and quantitative methodology that required dozens of interviews and analysis of 3,524 paper and online questionnaires at sites across the state.

The project was led by Pitt-Johnstown’s McGrath, whose team included Geography professors Ola Johansson and Ahmad Massasati, and Psychology professor Sharon Bertsch. Nine Pitt-Johnstown students also assisted, including Kaitlyn Bowser, Julie Dolges, Jordan Harter, Broderick Irons, Olivia Lewis, Matthew Malacki, Emily Reynolds, Nicholas Roth and Katie Saylor.

The team also included two professional researchers from Pittsburgh, William Lafe and David Primm. Lafe has extensive experience in the non-profit and philanthropic fields, including work with the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Primm has extensive experience conducting economic impact analyses for the tourism, healthcare, higher education industries as well as the U.S. government, including work as a Senior Project Director with Pittsburgh research firm Tripp Umbach.

The research project was funded by Center for Rural Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with an in-kind contribution by Pitt- Johnstown.


The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, located in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania, was founded in 1927 and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and by Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization.” Additionally, Pitt-Johnstown has been presented with The Seven Seals Award by the US Department of Defense’s office of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). Pitt-Johnstown is the regional leader, educating for success in the Real World. The distinctive combination of our people, programs, and place results in exceptional performance in preparing students for career and professional success.