Philadelphia Conventions Rebound, Hotel Owners Optimistic About Future | Business

This year, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) has 19 “citywide” events on the books – gatherings that generate 2,000 or more hotel room stays during its peak night – correspondent the number of citywide events held in 2019 before the pandemic.

Highlight events include NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball East Regional in late March at the Wells Fargo Center, which is expected to fill more than 8,000 hotel rooms. The return of the Army-Navy football game this winter, which is expected to attract 50,000 visitors, “will really help our month of December and help us finish the year strong,” said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel. Association.

However, the 498,000 hotel nights of the 152 events booked by PHLCVB will be down around 50% compared to the million nights in 2019.

“We still have a ways to go, however, we are very optimistic about our future,” Grose said.

The PHLCVB also says it expects this year’s events to generate an economic impact of $371 million, up from $600 million in 2019.

“This is definitely a pivotal point,” said Gregg Caren, President and CEO of PHLCVB. The city ended its indoor mask requirement on Wednesday, signaling another shift toward normalcy for convention organizers.

“We’re not going to get back to 2019 levels in a year,” Caren said. But, he noted, the worst projections call for a full recovery in 2025 or 2026. It now looks like activity levels could return by 2024, and possibly 2023.

“Our job is to accelerate that,” Caren said.

When the pandemic shutdowns began two years ago, travel plummeted, events large and small were canceled and many people in the region lost their tourism-related jobs.

In Philadelphia alone, employment in recreation and hospitality fell from 72,500 workers in March 2020 to 29,200 the following month, according to federal data. In December, the number of employees in the sector stood at 54,300.

“The livelihoods and incomes of tens of thousands of people basically go up and down based on how effective what we are doing,” Caren said.

During the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority has invested $25 million in health and safety-related upgrades, from air filtration systems to UV lights that sanitize handrails on escalators to the carpet replacement.

These improvements put Philadelphia in a “strong position” to compete for business, said John McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority. “We were able to assess the situation and invest wisely in things that will matter to our customers.”

In addition to meetings that guarantee large blocks of hotel bookings by out-of-town visitors, events like the Philadelphia Auto Show this week draw a steady stream of people downtown. “You get a lot of foot traffic, so the economy benefits,” McNichol said. The Philadelphia Auto Show is expected to draw 250,000 attendees March 5-13.

The convention center hosted ballot counters in the 2020 election and served as the first mass vaccination site in the United States. A handful of large-group events also took place in 2021 — like the Northeast Girls Qualifier volleyball tournament, which returns to Philadelphia next week and for two weekends in April.

“We’re looking at 1,345 teams coming to the area over the three weekends,” said East Coast Volleyball COO Tom Pingel.

Under pandemic protocols in the spring of 2021, courts had to be further apart, spectator numbers were limited, there were restrictions on eating and drinking inside, and everyone had to wear a mask.

This year, masks will be optional and the tournament will feel “more like a pre-pandemic situation,” Pingel said. “People are going to be thrilled to come in and see the [Reading Terminal] market and everything else downtown.”

The Natural Products Expo East, for businesses specializing in food and other natural and organic products, also successfully held its show in Philadelphia last September – with more than 15,000 registered attendees – and will return later this year.

Last year’s expo “was more successful than we could have imagined given what was happening at the time,” said Lacey Gautier, vice president of events for natural products. at Informa Markets, which organizes the exhibition.

The 2021 event has seen many cancellations amid the delta variant, and Gautier expects a “significant increase” in attendance this year. The planning process in 2022 “feels different and lighter, when there’s this broader receptivity when places open up a little bit more,” she said.

When the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. opened registration last month for its upcoming national convention in Philadelphia, more than 3,000 people signed up the first week.

The sorority, one of the historically “Divine Nine” of black sororities and fraternities, was founded at Howard University in 1920 – and had to cancel its in-person centennial celebration in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“We really missed having this major celebration that we had planned for this time, and it was very difficult for my members because you don’t turn 100 every day,” said Valerie Hollingsworth Baker, International President. of the sorority’s centennial.

This year will be special, she said. Zeta Phi Beta is planning a service project in the city at the July convention, along with a lineup of artists, at their first face-to-face gathering since 2018. meet, and as we fellowship with each other,” said Hollingsworth Baker.

©2022 Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Go to Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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