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Taking Lancaster Tourism to New Heights

Saint Joseph’s alumnus Edward Harris, BSBA '01, MBA, took the helm at Discover Lancaster in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2020, Lancaster County’s tourism economy has grown and Harris continues to use his education on Hawk Hill to teach future business leaders as an adjunct professor.

By Alex Hargrave, BA ’20

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic shut down the hospitality and tourism industries around the globe.

At the time, Edward Harris, BSBA '01, MBA, who was newly named chief executive officer for Discover Lancaster, the county’s destination marketing organization, was met with strict state-imposed travel restrictions and a small team, thinned by furloughs, as he pondered how to encourage tourism in the area. 

Most leaders in the industry stopped advertising. Harris took a different approach.

Aiming to keep Lancaster fresh in potential visitors’ minds as a getaway destination, Discover Lancaster highlighted local businesses taking safety precautions and promoted safe travel.

“A lot of friends and family thought I was a little crazy taking a leadership position at a tourism company in the heart of the pandemic, because people were not traveling, staying overnight in hotels or going out to eat at restaurants,” Harris says. “Some of the backbone pieces of the tourism industry were at rock bottom. But I really wanted to test myself with a new challenge in a broader leadership role.”

Most of the organization’s advertising targets potential visitors within a three-hour driving radius of Lancaster, which includes New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Some of the backbone pieces of the tourism industry were at rock bottom. But I really wanted to test myself with a new challenge in a broader leadership role.”

Edward Harris, BSBA ’01, MBA

Maintaining brand visibility despite the uncertainty at the time, Harris says, has brought more visitors in even four years later.

“When COVID started to let up, we benefited because we were top of mind as a place to visit for a lot of folks,” he says. “I do attribute some of that to the fact that we were marketing quite a bit when many other businesses like us just were not doing that.”

Harris graduated from Saint Joseph's University’s Haub School of Business with a marketing degree in 2001, and has since used his education to pursue various leadership opportunities. 

His first job was as a marketing manager with AND1, which was a startup basketball footwear and apparel brand at the time that, during his tenure, developed into a well-known company worth hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Harris went on to work as a brand manager for apparel companies Converse, Timberland and Under Armor before joining eBay as its director of marketing. While working, he also earned his MBA at Boston College in 2009.

In 2014, he was hired as the chief marketing officer at the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, which promotes tourism in Montgomery County.

“That was a big transition at that point in my career,” Harris says. “It's a totally different type of product to market, being that it’s a destination and not a tangible product. And I went from being a small fish in a big pond to working as more of a leader and decision-maker in a very small pond, a company with under 30 employees.”

For six years, he enjoyed living, working in and promoting the Greater Philadelphia area where he was born and raised. Then an opportunity came available in Lancaster that would be a challenge — even more so than he bargained for due to COVID-19. 

At the most basic level, he gets what motivates tourists and how to deliver on their expectations.”

Diane Phillips, PhD

Professor of Marketing

Harris was hired to lead Discover Lancaster in June of 2020. Taking the helm of the organization has been another enjoyable transition in his career, he says. 

“I’m a passionate marketer,” Harris says. “I do miss it sometimes. I miss just focusing on marketing 9 to 5, but I’ve grown to like the wide responsibility of the leadership position that a CEO has — marketing, finance, human resources, operations, and working with a board of directors and with a lot of business owners in the community.”

Harris has established himself as an asset to Lancaster’s tourism industry throughout his nearly four-year tenure. In 2022, the county welcomed 9.8 million visitors who spent $2.5 billion. Nearly 25,000 residents work in the hospitality and tourism sectors, and tourism is one the area’s top four industries. 

Kevin Malloy, executive director of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority, is a member of Discover Lancaster’s board of directors, and he also works with Harris to bring events to the Lancaster County Convention Center. 

Malloy says that Harris’ leadership during the pandemic helped both lodging-tax-funded organizations stay afloat. He praised Harris’ work with local elected officials to obtain federal funding to keep doors open, and his unusual advertising approach.

“He touched base with elected officials and stakeholders, listened, came up with a plan and unveiled it, and had good success,” Malloy says.

Harris credits his undergraduate education at Saint Joseph’s for both his creativity and leadership style that have enabled him to excel in his career. 

Here was this major that incorporated all this creativity and imagery and art and music into a business major. That’s how I fell in love with marketing.”

Edward Harris, BSBA ’01, MBA

Inspired by his late father who was an artist, he pursued art classes that aided his marketing major.

“Here was this major that incorporated all this creativity and imagery and art and music into a business major,” Harris says. “That’s how I fell in love with marketing.”

His close relationships with faculty and fellow students prepared him to be, overall, a team player, he says.

“Saint Joseph’s education prepares you to be a collaborator, a good listener, mainly because of the class size and also the values that St. Joe’s instills,” Harris says. “The role I’m in now, I have to work with a lot of different people. [I learned] we have to bring people together.”

Though he lives in Lancaster, Harris is still involved in Saint Joseph’s from afar. He was named the 2023 Marketer of the Year by the Saint Joseph’s chapter of the American Marketing Association, and he is an adjunct professor teaching in the MBA program.

He’s taught classes at Saint Joseph’s since 2013, on the recommendation of one of his mentors, Diane Phillips, PhD, professor of marketing. She praises his approach to marketing in the tourism industry.

“With tourism, he incorporates principles of branding and segmentation with a deep understanding of the customer into his approach,” Phillips says. “At the most basic level, he gets what motivates tourists and how to deliver on their expectations.”

Though he was at first hesitant to take a teaching role, Harris says his experience at Saint Joseph’s inspired him to take it on and stay involved in the community.

“I can’t say enough about the impact my Saint Joseph’s education has had on my career,” he says. “It’s just been wonderful.”

This June, Harris will begin his next adventure as CEO of Visit Williamsburg.

“Working with a very talented and dedicated team at Discover Lancaster – along with our Board of Directors and committees – has been a privilege, and I will carry those memories with me as I embark on this new chapter,” he says.


Harris’ Lancaster Favorites

As the CEO of Discover Lancaster, Harris knows the county’s best attractions better than most. Here are some of his recommendations for how to spend a day.

The Great Outdoors

Lancaster sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River, which makes it an ideal spot to enjoy a day on the water, Harris says. 

The Northwest River Trail is the perfect spot for a bike ride, a jog or a walk along the water. There are also outfitters that rent bicycles as well as kayaking or other boating equipment.

“The overall beauty of the landscape across Lancaster County is a major draw for visitors,” he says.

Illustration of trees and a stream

Family-Friendly Fun

Harris and his wife, Kristin, have two children — Will, 13, and Ruby, 7 — so he is familiar with the area’s offerings for the young and the young at heart.

As a kid, Harris would visit Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park with thrill rides and a waterpark, and now his children love it as much as he did. 

For ice cream lovers, visitors learn how ice cream is made and have a chance to create their own flavor at the Turkey Hill Ice Cream Experience. At Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, families can learn about agriculture and enjoy seasonal festivities, shopping, food, games and more.

illustration of three people in a group

Shopping, Eats and Entertainment

A lot of people visit Lancaster for its shopping opportunities, Harris says, including at Kitchen Kettle Village, which boasts more than 40 local vendors. There are also the Tanger Outlets and Main Street shops.

The county’s restaurants are renowned for their farm-fresh food thanks to their proximity to producers, Harris says. Some favorites include Bistro Barberet, Plough, C’est La Vie and 401 Prime. There are also vineyards and breweries galore.

Finally, the county has several theaters that feature musical, dramatic, magical, spiritual and comedy productions. Its most famous theater is the Fulton Theatre in downtown Lancaster.

“It’s just a majestic area that’s not like a lot of places you can visit,” Harris says.

illustration of chair and table in a dining setting