Philadelphia tourism organizations expect business and leisure travelers to return to the city in pre-pandemic numbers next year.
With 20 conventions booked this year, Visit Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Convention and Tourism Bureau expect hotel revenue in both Center City and Philadelphia County to exceed 2019 numbers by about 4 percent, topping $746 million in Center City and $918 million in the county.
Angela Wahl, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia, and Greg Karen, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, said in an interview last week, that the city’s tourism industry has almost fully recovered from the financial hit it took during the pandemic, when social distancing and travel restrictions kept people at home.
But it’s not quite there yet, they said, prompting the groups to join forces in a new joint $6.5 million marketing campaign as they work to meet those 2023 expectations.
“We’re on our way,” Val said. “In ’22, we started the year with another option, and it interrupted what we thought was going to be this kind of build-up, transition year that really now has become ’23. But we expect that we will be back to where we were [pre-pandemic] and surpass it by the end of this year.”
“In 2024, we would expect to have what we would classify as a normal or pre-pandemic year,” Karen said.
Evolving business travel
As COVID fears and restrictions eased in 2021, vacationers were the first to return to Philadelphia, as was the case across the country. People were ready to come out of their houses where they had been hiding for months, and some had extra spending money.
Meanwhile, business and group travel took longer to recover. But those sectors are also showing signs of recovery, Caron said.
This year, Philadelphia will host 20 citywide conventions, events that will use multiple venues and bring guests to multiple hotels, he said. This is an increase from the 19 citywide conventions held in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. The number of total hotel room nights sold for these conventions is still lagging because of lower conference attendance, he said, although he expects a return to pre-pandemic numbers next year as well.
“There’s no question that the remote work environment has changed the dynamic quite a bit,” said Karen. “But I think what we’re seeing on the meeting and convention side is the demand and desire for people to actually interact face-to-face, both the social elements of that and the ability to do business and share information and knowledge.” “
The championship goes on, tourism wins
Conventions and vacations aren’t the only factors boosting visits to Philly.
The Phillies’ World Series games and the Eagles’ appearance in the Super Bowl were welcome for the city’s tourism industry, Karen and Val said. It’s something they want to be able to budget for every year.
“It’s a media spotlight on Philadelphia as a destination that we’ll never be able to pay for,” Wahl said. “Whether it’s a long economic boom for us or just a few weeks, we want it here.”
Experts are quick to point out that unexpected events like championships aren’t likely to have a long-term economic impact, but in the short term, hotels and restaurants benefit. Out-of-town fans are booking hotel nights. Locals flock to bars to watch games and stop by sports shops to stock up on new team merchandise.
And for officials trying to bring other big events to Philadelphia, a World Series or Super Bowl could help seal a deal, Karen said.
“It helps strengthen the reputation of our sporting city,” he said. “While we can’t plan things like postseason play, we can plan strategies that are successful in delivering things like the 2026 World Cup, the 40th anniversary of Wrestlemania next year and all the NCAA tournaments we have.”“
A new approach to attracting visitors
With the goal of fully recovering from the pandemic next year, Visit Philadelphia and the Convention and Philadelphia Visitors Bureau are teaming up for the first time to bring more visitors to the city with a joint $6.5 million marketing campaign.
The pitch: “Come for Philly and stay for Philly.”
The groups unveiled the joint $6.5 million marketing campaign on Tuesday, citing research that shows many travelers are regular visitors to the city. Representatives of the organization said they hope to tap into the reasons why tourists want to return.
“As we talked to people involved in research, Philadelphia was all about our credentials. Philadelphia was [Liberty] Bell and [Independence] Hall and Rocky, cheesesteaks and all the things people know,” said Neil Frauenglass, chief marketing officer for Visit Philadelphia. “But once you get here, it’s a place you fall in love with, and what you fall in love with is Philly,” which includes elements like the non-cheeseburger food scene and art and music venues.
“We liked that tension of Philly being our intrigue,” added Frauenglas, and “Philadelphia being our credential.”