Pulse: Affairs: The History Wars

Philly’s share of the foreign travel market is up—and Boston is in a panic

“People in Boston are worried about Philadelphia.”

So said a recent Boston Globe editorial detailing Beantowners’ growing anxiety about tourism — specifically, that Philadelphia is closing in on Boston as a favored destination among international travelers. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Boston ranked 10th in visits from foreigners in 2004, the same position it held in 1999. But in that same period, we jumped from 21st all the way up to 12th.

Why such hand-wringing if Boston remains ahead of us? Bostonians’ big gripe seems to be that we’re encroaching on their status — self-proclaimed, we’d like to point out — as the best place to go if you’re into history and culture. Thanks to state-of-the-art attractions like the National Constitution Center and the new Liberty Bell pavilion, not to mention a beefy marketing budget, Philadelphia has made more and more visitors decide they’d like their U.S. history served with a cheesesteak instead of clam chowder.

Near Bunker Hill, they’re adopting a bunker mentality. The state legislature recently convened a special forum on tourism, arts and culture. During the session, participants called for a bigger tourism ad budget—one noted that Massachusetts was being outspent by Maine, for cripes’ sake — while a mayoral aide urged calm during the crisis: “Philadelphia has not cleaned our clocks yet,” she said.

Here, tourism officials are slightly bemused. “We’re having some fun with them on Ben Franklin, too,” says Meryl Levitz, of the GPTMC. “Ben may have been born in Boston, but he chose to come here.