Philly conventions canceled because of coronavirus could have big economic impact

A hotel trade association in the city says nothing has hit the hospitality sector this hard, this abruptly, since the 9/11 attacks.

Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Two major conferences that would have taken place this month in Philadelphia have been canceled because of safety concerns arising from the new coronavirus. That means the local hotel and convention business is taking a hit.

The City of Philadelphia announced the first case of COVID-19 on Tuesday. As of Tuesday evening, Pennsylvania had 12 cases total. New Jersey confirmed one man has died from the virus.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has canceled its annual meeting, which was scheduled for this week. The American Chemical Society has canceled its spring national meeting, which would have happened in late March.

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Two canceled conferences means 21,000 people who will no longer be coming to Philadelphia, staying in hotels, and spending money in restaurants and at other local businesses, said Kavin Schieferdecker, senior vice president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s convention division.

According to the group’s 2018 annual report, people who came to the city for conventions and trade shows brought in almost $500 million to convention-related business such as hotels, restaurants, and shops.

Schieferdecker said other big cities that host conventions, such as Denver, Las Vegas, and Chicago, all are being affected by the new coronavirus situation.

Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, said hotels that would normally be close to full right now are only about half-full, which makes him worried for hourly workers.

“The hotels haven’t experienced anything like this since September 11, 2001,” Grose said. “Even during the Great Recession … it was a more gradual slowdown, but this is abrupt. Almost overnight, things have changed in our industry.”

He added that hotels bring in millions of dollars in annual revenue to the city from various taxes, so fewer people staying at the hotels here means the city budget could be affected too.

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