Visit Philadelphia Celebrates 20 Years With Big, $2M Grant

The organization will promote Historic Philadelphia with the funding.

Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

In 1996, Mayor Edward Rendell, Governor Thomas Ridge and Rebecca Rimel, penned an op-ed in the Inquirer that posited, “The Philadelphia region is sitting on gold.” And the gold was Philadelphia’s opportunity to “market itself aggressively” to get visitors out on the town.

Now, 20 years later, Visit Philadelphia, a direct result of that op-ed’s call to action, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The organization also announced on Monday a two-year $2 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to elevate Historic Philadelphia — Old City, Society Hill and Independence National Historical Park.

“We know from research that many visitors don’t go beyond the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall,” said Meryl Levitz, Visit Philadelphia president and CEO. Levitz said the push to focus on all that the original city has to offer couldn’t be more right, with the DNC just behind us and with the opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution before us in the spring.

Last year brought the Philadelphia region its biggest number of guests — 41 million people — that’s up from about 27 million visitors in 1997. And a breakdown of the numbers reveals that over that time, more and more people stayed overnight in Philadelphia for leisure, said Peter R. Tyson, managing director of consulting firm CBRE Hotels. There were 983,000 leisure hotel room nights in 2015, a 287 percent increase since 1997, according to CBRE Hotels, and out of the 3.1 million hotel room nights sold in Center City in 2015, 32 percent were for individual leisure, making leisure the fastest growing segment of hotel occupancy.

Tourism had a $10.7 billion economic impact on Philadelphia in 2015, supporting thousands of jobs each day and generating $612 million in local taxes, according to Econsult Solutions. But hitting this peak was anything but easy — Visit Philadelphia efforts over the last 20 years had a lot to do with moving the city past self-inflicted negativity, panelists at a Visit Philadelphia press event surmised.

Is Philadelphia’s negativity still a thing? A. Bruce Crawley, president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management, Inc., doesn’t think so. According to Crawley, in the early days of marketing the city, residents and hospitality workers lacked confidence in talking up what the city had to offer.

“We used to tell people, don’t come to Philadelphia because it’s Philadelphia, come because it’s between trips to New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Crawley. Adding, “We just didn’t have the idea that in order to sell effectively, the product itself, the brand itself, had to be transformed. Not only on the outside, but also people on the inside.” The task became elevating Philadelphia’s history and linking it to fun.

“Today there are 32 major projects underway in the city of Philadelphia, these are cranes building major projects [that] range from apartment buildings to businesses, medical facilities, academic buildings, and hotels,” said real-estate developer Carl Dranoff, asserting that he’d like to see twice as many cranes in the sky over the next decade or so.

Visit Philadelphia’s new two-year plan will push more advertising and social media attention to expand the Historic Philadelphia campaign, relying on the popular “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” tag and a to-be-determined visitor engagement project to bring more people to the area.

The grant for the project from the Pew Charitable Trusts will match funding from H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest and Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

“People aren’t happy with just sight-seeing anymore,” said Levitz, “They want to site do.”

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