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Bringing the Visitor Market to Bear

by Meryl Levitz
This year, VISIT PHILADELPHIA celebrates 20 years of building the Philadelphia region’s brand and driving visitation—work that has helped bring 650 million visitors to the area since 1997 and a record 41 million in 2015 alone. Before we can take a look at Philadelphia’s future, it’s important to take a look at where it’s been over the past two decades.

In 1996, then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, then-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and President and Chief Executive Officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts Rebecca Rimel saw promise in the region’s travel potential and founded the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), now VISIT PHILADELPHIA.

Rendell, Ridge and Rimel laid out their mission for the organization in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed. They called their vision of the Philadelphia region as a leisure destination a “golden promise” and detailed their goals of getting more people to stay overnight, building the region’s image and collecting data to develop marketing strategies.

Flash forward. A record 41 million people— 88 percent of them here for a leisure purpose—visited the five-county region in 2015, the sixth consecutive year for record-breaking visitation in the region. And overnight leisure proves to be the fastest-growing segment in Center City hotels. In 1997, when VISIT PHILADELPHIA started marketing the region, leisure accounted for just 14 percent of all room nights. In 2015, one out of every three Center City hotel rooms—that’s 32 percent— was occupied by a leisure stay. (Sources: CBRE Hotels, Longwoods International and Econsult Solutions, Inc.)

There are plenty of ways to keep Greater Philadelphia’s success as a tourism destination going:

Give people more reasons to visit: While any time is a good time for visitors to explore Philadelphia’s legendary history, art, food, music and park scenes, new attractions will give people additional reasons to visit. On the horizon for 2017 and beyond: Museum of the American Revolution, a re-imagined LOVE Park, the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia at Market East and many new hotels.

Reach untapped markets: VISIT PHILADELPHIA has always extended invitations to visit to a diverse group of people, and we remain committed to courting African-American, Hispanic and LGBT visitors, along with families, couples, millennials and others.

Stay at the forefront of digital communications: VISIT PHILADELPHIA ventured into social media in 2007 and has worked hard to stay ahead of the curve. The company also places a high priority on our websites (VisitPhilly.com and UWishUNu.com), which welcomed 18.7 million visits in 2015, and we’re committed to ensuring that the user experiences on our sites are seamless.

Innovate and adapt with the times: That’s what any company does to remain successful, and that’s what VISIT PHILADELPHIA did when we debuted Philadelphia—Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay in 2004, when we delved into social media in 2007 and when we rolled out an Entrepreneur-In-Residence program this year.

Secure increased marketing funds: It’s the only way to stay competitive with the major destinations reaching out to the same potential visitors as Philadelphia does. Thanks to a $2 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, VISIT PHILADELPHIA plans to increase promotional efforts around Historic Philadelphia over the next two years, showing people just how much there is to see and do after they’ve toured the Bell and the Hall.

In the years to come, we expect this great region of ours to still be delivering big on the brand promise of “independence.” In addition to new attractions and amenities that appeal as much to residents as they do to visitors, we expect a city that’s accessible and well connected to the surrounding counties. And above all, we expect residents and visitors to relish their ability to live, work and play in a place where independence is encouraged.

VISIT PHILADELPHIA will continue to deliver on tourism’s “golden promise” by welcoming visitors who are attracted to the city’s confidence, the many things they can do here and the many ways they can do them. We’ll encourage more businesses to open up shop here. We’ll support community development initiatives committed to keeping our streets safe, clean and desirable. We’ll collaborate with our partners in the hospitality industry to ensure that we’re attracting visitors for both business and pleasure. And most importantly, we’ll always work with the future of the Philadelphia region in mind.

Meryl Levitz serves as president & CEO of VISIT PHILADELPHIA.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 10 (September, 2016).
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