Tourism marketing from destinations that continue to prioritize their resident communities are likely to build a more resilient future. If Visit Philadelphia keeps applying that lesson past the pandemic years, it’s likely to pay off long term.
Lebawit Lily Girma
Visit Philadelphia launched the first phase of a $3.5 million tourism campaign, its first big push since the start of the pandemic with spending edging toward 2019 levels.
“Pack Light, Plan Big, For Philly” is partly focused on attracting visitors from neighboring drive destinations such as New York, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Canada. But there’s also a big focus on getting residents to explore their backyard.
It’s a close-to-home strategy that the tourism marketing office expects will allow the City of Brotherly Love to cruise past 2019 visitor numbers.
“There’s so much competition now and that’s one of the reasons why we’re spending a lot of effort locally,” said Neil Frauenglass, chief marketing officer at Visit Philadelphia. “Who is more predisposed to want to come visit then the folks that are from this area? And travelers are smart these days — they know that their dollars are contributing to the local economy and Philadelphians take care of their own.”
A bounce back in local and drive markets last year is also what helped Philadelphia to lead the tourism recovery for the eastern zone cities, including New York and Boston since last summer. The road to recovery continues but for Philly, the signs of rebound are there: Hotel tax collections reached $14.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to $22.5 million over the same period in 2019, though cumulative tax collections still run 30 percent below 2019.
Spending dollars in commuter destinations to inspire weekday commuters to be weekend visitors, is half of the campaign’s main focus, Frauenglass said. “And then vice versa, spending dollars out in the counties to remind people of all the amazing things that are happening in the city.”
The first phase of the campaign involves ads in Times Square and Penn Station in New York City, in Surbuban Station screens throughout Philly’s Center City and on I-676, as well as on Expedia and social media.
A television spot is close to being released on Comcast, as well as a video in Wawa gas stations across the country as part of a partnership with the Welcome America Festival. The tourism marketing office’s optimism also lies in a bigger return of events and festivals this year, such as Roots Picnic, to draw diverse travelers.
Ads will later run in Washington D.C. and Baltimore buses, on Amtrak, and in Philadelphia newspapers.
Visit Philadelphia’s outreach will also include Canada. “We’re seeing people are ready to get on the road and drive upwards of 10 hours, so Canada is certainly a big part of what we’re doing,” said Frauenglass.
Since the passing of Jeff Guaracino, who led the organization since 2018, Visit Philadelphia has been running an executive search for its next leader. Frauenglass said the selection could happen as early as this summer.
“We haven’t skipped a beat and that’s to Jeff’s credit,” said Frauenglass. “We had a plan in place in case anything happened to any of us. He was so focused on that — he was a crisis communications PR guy so we had that locked in.”
With a new leader on the horizon, Visit Philadelphia’s “residents first” marketing approach is also a lesson that’s carried on from the pandemic.
“You’re signaling to those that are outside that we’re vibrant, we’re ready, we’re open. Really growing from within seems to be the strongest way to grow beyond your market as well.”