Philly tourism is up, but not to pre-pandemic levels yet

The new report shows that the rebound after COVID lockdowns is real, and both recreational and business travelers are coming back to Philadelphia.

The Philly skyline

The Philadelphia skyline in May 2021. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

A new report shows the city of Philadelphia’s tourism is on the rise, now that people aren’t confined because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city, Visit Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau announced 36.2 million people visited the five-county Greater Philadelphia region in 2021, a 21% increase from 2020. They say the numbers are proof that the industry’s recovery from COVID-19 is well underway.

Gregg Caren, who heads the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said one of his key metrics is that people aren’t canceling events.

“We actually have the same number of citywide events this year as we had in 2019. Ironically, that number was 19. The difference is, of course, attendance levels are not exactly where they were at that time,” he said. “So, we have the same number of events. The cancellations have stopped and we’re just having maybe 20 to 30% less attendees for some of these events.”

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Caren said he hasn’t had a cancellation since January and that was from a group for this year that just couldn’t put things together in time to have their meeting.

The strongest category returning to meetings and conventions is medical and educational groups, which is aided by the strong presence of those two groups throughout the region in higher education and high-tech firms.

Visitors are spending money too, according to the report, with $5.2 billion. That’s a 26% increase over 2020 and 30% below the pre-pandemic benchmark of 2019.

That spending generated $734 million in tax revenue for the state and local municipalities, an increase of 23% from 2020.

The hospitality industry in the region directly supports over 76,000 jobs, according to the report from Econsult Solutions.

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“To see our hospitality community work so smartly, strategically, and collaboratively to bring visitors back to our hotels, museums, restaurants, and shops is hallmark Philly,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement. “While the strides they made in 2021 were extraordinary, they are keenly focused on meeting and surpassing the record numbers set in 2019.”

Caren believes that the pre-pandemic numbers will return next year, provided there isn’t another major outbreak of COVID.

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