For visitors to Philadelphia, a proposed bump in the lodging tax devoted to tourism and convention marketing will mean flipping a couple of more coins on the counter for each night's hotel stay. But for the region's efforts to boost an industry that generates $26 million daily, sustains thousands of jobs, and drives $1.35 billion a year in taxes into government coffers, that pocket change could be a lifesaver.
The estimated 50-cents-a-day hike could be worth $1 million apiece for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, according to the measure's primary sponsor, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Her legislation was introduced last week, amid a concerted push by tourism marketing officials in the region to reverse shortsighted reductions in state and city support for the visitor industry.
Over the last few years, the state's share in supporting this critical marketing has plummeted from $6.6 million in 2007 to less than $130,000 this year for GPTMC. That, despite the agency's stellar 15-year track record of growing annual leisure visitors to the region by 10 million, or nearly a third. The tourism marketing agency has tried to compensate for its inadequate funding with a number of efficiency moves that have hampered its ability to reach potential visitors worldwide.
Even an expected fourfold increase next year in Gov. Corbett's budget will leave Harrisburg's role in tourism marketing well behind the smart investments made by many states.
To their credit, stakeholders from across the hospitality industry, including, notably, the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, have been working since the summer to line up support for Reynolds Brown's proposal among Council members and from Mayor Nutter. Now that she is reporting that support has come together, it's looking hopeful that the city will be able to boost marketing efforts for its visitor industry.
Council action may occur this month on the measure, which would boost the hotel tax a mere 0.3 percent, while still leaving the levy lower than those in several other major cities, including New York. The infusion of new revenue won't claw back the losses completely, yet it should ease a funding crisis that Reynolds Brown views as "threatening Philadelphia's ability to compete for valuable tourist dollars." At stake, in particular, are the city's 52,000 hospitality-related jobs, many held by Philadelphians.
If the city does tweak the hotel tax, Nutter and tourism officials also would be in a stronger position to argue for greater support from Harrisburg. The entire state, after all, wins when its largest city brings in more tourism revenue. Given the proven success of tourism sales pitches like "With Love, Philadelphia XOXO," Gov. Corbett should know the benefits of investing in Pennsylvania's major economic engine.