Independence Hall

Visitors flock to historic sites on Independence Mall. — K. Huff for Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau

Leaders in the Philadelphia hospitality and tourism industry are seeking federal assistance as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues.

The call for federal aid comes as the sector lost more than $1 billion in economic activity because of the pandemic, according to officials. The crisis caused 30 hotels in Philadelphia to suspend operations, leading to an estimated loss of more than $468 million in hotel revenue.

The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which promotes Philadelphia as a destination for meetings and overseas visitors, needs funding to market the region once the area reopens.

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“We know the role that the work that we do plays on the local, regional and state economy, so we’re very eager to participate in recovery efforts that we know will bring back jobs,” said Julie Coker, the PHLCVB’s outgoing president and CEO.

“We know that if we are able to market and communicate Philadelphia and the region’s message out to the public nationally and internationally, we know that will help create demand. We’re looking at post-COVID, so we’re going to need to have funding to make sure that we are communicating to our various audiences so that they know that Philadelphia is open for business.”

The PHLCVB is part of a coalition advocating for Congress to expand Paycheck Protection Program eligibility to include destination marketing organizations. The PPP is part of a relief plan to help small businesses continue to pay workers during the crisis.

The pandemic caused PHLCVB to lose 260 events for 2020, which would have drawn 260,000 attendees to Philadelphia. Those visitors would have used 315,000 hotel room nights.

David Fiorenza, a finance professor at Villanova University, said the city’s hospitality industry has been hit hard, with the closures of hotels, historic attractions and sports arenas and the cancellation of major concerts. He hopes the PHLCVB will receive financial assistance to help with marketing efforts.

“If they’re not able to market and promote, then they are not able to get people to stay at the hotels that pay the parking tax or the hotel tax that actually helps fund a lot of things in the city of Philadelphia,” Fiorenza said.

He said Philadelphia’s tourism organizations have done a great job in the past 10 years in terms of hosting major events such as the Democratic National Convention, the pope’s visit and the NFL Draft.

“They’ve done such great things and it would be a shame to lose all that momentum,” he said.

The PHLCVB recently released its 2019 annual report highlighting the economic impact of the city’s tourism industry, which supports more than 76,000 jobs.

The report said convention and group segments generated 1.1 million room nights in the city, leading to $234 million in hotel room revenue.

Last year, the bureau booked 585 groups, which brought 788,000 attendees to Philadelphia. Those meeting attendees and organizers spent an estimated $388 million in the market, and when cycled through the economy, yielded a $600 million economic impact.

“2019 was such as successful year for hospitality and tourism, so we know that if we can put some recovery efforts in place that it will certainly boost the economy,” Coker said.

“What we’re saying is that we’re a critical pillar in the city’s business recovery strategy for COVID-19, and 2019 is really a barometer of what our industry is capable of achieving.”

Research conducted by Tourism Economics indicates that domestic leisure travelers are expected to lead the industry’s COVID-19 recovery.

“Our analysis finds a substantial amount of pent-up travel demand, which will be primarily channeled to regional, drive-to destinations,” Erik Evjen, director of data analytics and insights for Tourism Economics, said in a news release.

“In this sense, Philadelphia is well-positioned to capitalize when the first stage of recovery begins, given its proximity to major traveler markets.”

Jeff Guaracino, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia, said there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Greater Philadelphia’s recovery as a tourism destination.

“The region is very popular with leisure visitors,” he said in a written statement.

“It’s an easy drive for much of the population, and it offers a good variety of things to do. Some hotels are even beginning to accept reservations for future stays. When our destination is ready to open, we’ll be ready to welcome locals and visitors to explore.”

He continued: “But we also know that there are challenges ahead: the unpredictability of this health crisis, the weakened economy and the temporary loss of some of our key nighttime offerings like concerts, shows and sporting events.”

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