Philly tourism expecting a big summer as COVID numbers trend down

Independence Hall in Old City. (Courtesy of Visit Philly)

Independence Hall in Old City. (Courtesy of Visit Philly)

For the first time in over a year, the Philadelphia tourism sector has something to be excited about: declining numbers of pandemic infections and rising numbers of vaccinations has made the idea of taking summer vacation more appealing to many Americans.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.—  i.e. Visit Philly — has joined forces with similar tourism agencies across Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties to launch a national campaign, “Pack Light, Plan Big,” to lure travelers in this direction.

The COVID-19 pandemic upturned most metrics for predicting how many people might come to Philadelphia during the summer season, but new polling data from Tourism Economics shows that 72% of Americans plan to take a vacation this summer.

The CEO of Visit Philly, Jeff Guaracino, said Philadelphia is well-positioned to attract a significant portion of those travelers.

“Tourism Economics has predicted that Philadelphia is likely to rebound quicker than our competitive set,” he said. “We have a solid market mix of year-round visitors who come here not just for leisure, but for meetings, for conventions, for special events, and sporting events.”

Guaracino is putting a lot on the next three weeks. His data shows that 50% of Americans plan to travel on Memorial Day weekend but only half that number — 25% — have actually made plans. “Pack Light, Plan Big” is designed to nudge those undecided people toward Philly.

A series of television advertisements highlight typical people — a salesman, a gym owner, a writer, a small business owner, etc. —  describing the hardships they have experienced during the pandemic, and their optimism for a summer that will be closer to normal with more relaxed precautions: going to a ball game, picking up dinner at the Famous 4th Street Deli, walking into a museum, going out dancing with friends.

One of the subjects of Visit Philly's marketing videos, Marisel, opened a fitness studio five weeks before the pandemic shutdown. She's excited to have friends and family come to the city again. (Screenshot)
One of the subjects of Visit Philly’s marketing videos, Marisel, opened a fitness studio five weeks before the pandemic shutdown. She’s excited to have friends and family come to the city again. (Screenshot)

“We’re not out of it yet, and we need to be careful. But we also need to celebrate,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday at an event launching National Travel and Tourism Week. “Be assured that the case counts are going down, and people are getting vaccinated. We need more people vaccinated, so anybody who can talk to friends and family to get the vaccine — it’s safe, it’s effective, and we’ll soon be vaccinating our kids. I expect in September schools will open.”

Among the city’s new draws, Kenney pointed to the expansion of sidewalk restaurant tables, the newly opened Love Park Visitor Center, the launch of Dine Latino, and this week’s opening of a major expansion of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Also this month, Dilworth Park launched a roller rink for the summer, the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center opened near Independence Mall, and President Joe Biden chose 30th Street Station to tout railroad travel for the 50th anniversary of Amtrak.

Guaracino expects the summer tourism season to proceed in two phases: Right now, he is planning for Memorial Day to the Fourth of July. The rest of the season until Labor Day will be largely dependent on the progress of the pandemic and vaccination rollout.

Biden has said he would like to see 70% of Americans vaccinated by Independence Day.

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