Philadelphia is the first World Heritage City in the United States. We did not reach this elite status by accident. As a community we spent the last 30-plus years and millions of dollars to turn Philadelphia into a world-class city — a destination city.

Philadelphia is a highly desirable destination. In 2019, our city attracted 46 million people from across the United States and every corner of the globe. The number of visitors has been steadily increasing year over year.

Hospitality and tourism are vital parts of our economic engine. This industry generated $12.2 billion, or $33 million each day, for our city. Visitors and the money they spend supported jobs for 105,460 people.

The hospitality and tourism industry supported one-third of the Philadelphia economy, with no end to its growth in sight … until COVID-19 hit our community hard. The industry has faced unimaginable challenges ranging from the complete shutdown of tourist attractions, arts and cultural venues, restaurants and bars to the attendant impact on hotels and all the businesses that support the industry.

The public health strategy to ameliorate the impact of the COVID-19 required strict compliance with best safety practices and it came at a high price. Hotels were required to dramatically reduce occupancy while restaurants and some related businesses were temporarily shut down.

The hospitality and tourism industry in our region has witnessed a $4 billion loss since March, with a drastic decline in jobs. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau reported a loss of 380 meetings that were cancelled because of COVID-19. These events would have attracted 420,000 visitors to our city.

Some economics and industry experts believe that it will take years for our economy to recover.

This is unthinkable and unacceptable.

We do not have the luxury of allowing the hospitality and tourism industry to collapse. In addition to the billions of dollars generated by hospitality and tourism, the industry employs more than 100,000 people. Of those jobs, African Americans account for more than 70% of front-line roles in hotels throughout Philadelphia.

While the hospitality industry is dealing with uncharted challenges as a result of the pandemic, the industry is resilient and will rebound. Leisure travel is starting to increase, and consumer confidence is on the rise. According to the latest forecast from Tourism Economics, the hospitality industry is gradually improving and should return to normal operation and employment by 2023.

Given the large number of number of jobs in the industry, and particularly the large number of African Americans in that sector, it is in our best interest to work toward the aggressive and strategic return of hospitality and tourism as soon as possible.

Philadelphia OIC has been a valued partner in the creation of our robust hospitality and tourism industry and we will continue to be a partner in the rebuilding of this vital part of our economy.

Philadelphia OIC is renowned for its Hospitality Training Institute. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, the 31-year-old institution has trained hundreds of people for roles in the hospitality and tourism industry. Many leaders in the industry started at Philadelphia OIC’s Hospitality Training Institute and are now nationally recognized as industry leaders and innovators.

The proven expertise of Philadelphia OIC is an essential element of the path forward for hospitality and tourism in our city. The heartbeat of this industry is people. Philadelphia OIC’s value proposition is the creation of a pipeline of highly trained and well-qualified people ready to serve in every aspect of the industry.

The crisis has not ended but we can see a better tomorrow. Although the hospitality and tourism industry is still recovering from the economic setback, restaurants are reopening and hotels are once again welcoming visitors, as are our museums and historical attractions.

We will recover.

People should prepare now for the opportunities that will be available in hospitality. Whether it is retooling your skills for the new roles that will become available in hospitality or starting a new career in the field, now is the time to prepare for the future.

Philadelphia is unstoppable. Philadelphia is a World Heritage City. Philadelphia is a destination.

Never count us out.

Renée Cardwell Hughes is the president and CEO of Philadelphia OIC.

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