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Phila. goes high-tech in bid to attract visitors

The city's tourism agency is turning to blogs and Web sites. It hopes to appeal to a younger crowd.

While people in pajamas who appear on TV may attract certain visitors to Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. is turning to blogs and Web sites to attract a younger, more tech-savvy crowd.

Since January, the agency's blog has experimented with previews of cultural events and video about places for cheap dates in South Philadelphia.

Uwishunu - that's "you wish you knew" in standard English - is aiming to tell stories and use videos about people, places and events they like and want to share with potential visitors.

In less than five months, the blog has become one of the anchors of the tourism agency's evolving efforts to use its Web site to draw visitors. The blog is part of moving beyond traditional advertising that told the world "Philly's More Fun When You Sleep Over," agency officials say.

The marketing agency, which has an annual budget of $14 million, will provide details about uwishunu and its other plans in its annual report to hospitality industry officials this afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Penn's Landing.

Meryl Levitz, the agency's president and chief executive, said the "sleep over" campaign has been effective in getting more visitors to do just that, filling hotels on weekends. Now, it's time to put more emphasis on helping visitors discover their own notion of what's fun and interesting, she said.

The uwishunu blog helps attract one of the most important types of visitor: the traveler who has been to Philadelphia already and doesn't want to see the Liberty Bell and other historical icons again, she said.

"People are looking for a message that rings their bell," Levitz said. "Many people are returning to Philadelphia for second visits because they find there is so much to do."

Levitz said that a big part of the region's appeal, identified by visitors who have been surveyed by the agency, is that Philadelphia has a "sense of place," in the same way centuries-old European cities do. "The authenticity of Philadelphia keeps coming back" in the surveys, she said.

The tourism agency still uses traditional print advertising. But people are getting information about places that they are thinking of visiting from a variety of nontraditional sources, and they are looking to Web sites to get specifics about their interests, officials said.

The agency is using to customize appeals to a dozen different types of travelers, including African Americans, Canadians, gays, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, "culture vultures" who just want to visit museums, and "blockbuster-exhibition goers" who come specifically to see special shows, the annual report said.

Agency officials also will use today's gathering to explain why they think one key piece of data in the report, which indicates the total number of visitors to the region declined last year from 2005, may be inaccurate.

D.K. Shifflet & Associates, a McLean, Va., market-research firm that does projections of local visitors for tourism agencies nationwide, estimated that the region's total visitor volume declined 3.1 percent, to an estimated 21.01 million in 2006, compared with 20.35 million the year before. The figure includes all business and leisure visitors, whether they are here just for the day or overnight.

In a letter from Shifflet sent to Levitz yesterday, the firm said that it had revised the way it performed its estimates last year, and that the results for both Philadephia and Pennsylvania showed a decline. The firm said it would provide a new estimate, based on the previous method of making projections, tomorrow.

Using the old method, Philadelphia may have had a drop in visitors of about 1.8 percent last year compared with 2005, agency spokesman Jeff Guaracino said.

Bu why the numbers may be down isn't clear to the tourism agency, in part because they include business travelers and conventioneers, who are not a part of the market the agency keeps track of, he said.