New Philly Conventions head Julie Coker Graham looking to change the face of hospitality

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     Julie Coker Graham took over the Philadelphia Conventions and Visitors Bureau on Jan. 1, marking the first time a woman and an African American has led the bureau. (Credit: Jennifer Lynn; Mural by the Phila. Mural Arts Program)

    Julie Coker Graham took over the Philadelphia Conventions and Visitors Bureau on Jan. 1, marking the first time a woman and an African American has led the bureau. (Credit: Jennifer Lynn; Mural by the Phila. Mural Arts Program)

    On January 1, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau began a new era when it welcomed Julie Coker Graham as its new president and CEO. Graham, who has been with the organization for 10 years, becomes the first woman — and first African American — to lead the CVB.

    “It goes without saying that coming from the hotel industry, often females are not necessarily general managers,” said Coker Graham, who started her career in 1989 as a corporate management trainee for the Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “We’ve certainly made a lot of strides over the past 10 years for more women to be general managers, and we have several in the city that are fantastic.”

    Coker Graham takes over the bureau at a time when the city’s tourism industry and overall profile continue to grow. Coming off last fall’s World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’s visit, the city is now shifting gears in preparation for the Democratic National Convention in July.

    “Over the last 10 years, we’ve moved from the 21st most visited city [in the United States] to the 15th most visited city,” she said. “So having the spotlight that Pope Francis put on Philadelphia certainly helps our international efforts. In order to move up, we have to make sure that we have proper airlift, the attractions, and certainly funding. Proper funding on a state level is important for international tourism.”

    Coker Graham notes that tourism funding has decreased since 2001, and the current budget impasse is holding up an $850,000 international tourism grant.

    “It’s all used for international tourism,” she said. “We continue to market internationally, and we try to stretch our dollars as much as we can. To have stabilized funding that makes us competitive with other cities is really important.”

    To hear more of Jennifer Lynn’s interview with Julie Coker Graham, including the PCVB’s plans for the DNC, press play at the top of this story.

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