Mayor Jim Kenney joined regional tourism officials Wednesday in unveiling marketing initiatives to lure travelers back to the Philadelphia region more than a year into the pandemic, as vaccination trends have prompted reopening plans in Northeastern states and major cities get ready to compete for visitor spending.
“This summer starts the beginning of our tourism comeback,” Kenney said during a news conference at Independence Visitor Center, pointing to the job creation that comes with more visitors, and the $1 billion in annual city and state tax revenue that tourism generated before coronavirus shutdowns.
“To support the long-term survival and revival of our restaurants and retail, arts and cultural institutions, hotels and other hospitality businesses, we need to welcome back our visitors,” Kenney said.
With Memorial Day just weeks away, Pennsylvania announced Tuesday that it would lift limits on how many people can gather inside restaurants and other businesses starting May 31, following similar announcements by the governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
But Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has yet to set a date for lifting coronavirus restrictions that still apply in the city. He defended that stance during a City Council hearing Wednesday, saying “there’s a risk in opening up too early.”
Kenney, at the tourism news conference, recognized that living through the pandemic “has been a real struggle for everybody” and stressed the need for more vaccinations.
“Now we’re starting to come out of it,” Kenney said. “We’re not out of it yet, and we need to be careful. But we also need to celebrate and be assured that the case counts are going down, which they are, and that people are getting vaccinated. We need more people vaccinated. So anybody who can talk to friends and family to get the vaccine, it’s safe, it’s effective.”
Consumer surveys indicate many people are ready to take a trip this summer. Nearly 72% of American travelers, among about 1,200 surveyed, said they would take a vacation between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according a a late April survey by the firm Destination Analysts. That was a 10-point jump from the previous month.
Summer marketing will “tap into the pent-up demand for leisure,” said Jeff Guaracino, CEO of Visit Philadelphia, which promotes tourism in the region.
The group debuted a television commercial Wednesday as part of a $2 million marketing campaign. The slogan: “Pack Light. Plan Big. For Philly.”
“It’s about booking hotel rooms, buying tickets at museums and attractions, encouraging people to dine outdoors and indoors, and to take tours, and mostly to celebrate reconnecting with family and friends,” Guaracino said.
Demand for rooms at Center City hotels increased 50% in March compared with February, according to Visit Philadelphia, though overall hotel demand remains down more than 60% compared with 2019 levels.
“Diversity, inclusion and equity is at the forefront of our industry’s recovery efforts,” he said. Visit Philadelphia is also starting a new ad campaign this week in 12 U.S. markets aimed at LGBTQ travelers, he said.
There will be lots of competition to reach tourists. Cities including New York, Baltimore and Las Vegas, along with the cruise industry, theme parks, and international destinations are all “launching campaigns at the same time,” Guaracino said.