As 2013 prepares to fade to black, the Philadelphia hospitality community looks towards a future full of daunting challenges brightened by the hope that comes with new beginnings.
Recently released numbers show that for 2013, there were about a million attendees to conventions, meetings and events in the city. Those numbers were on par with 2011 and 2012 according to officials with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the body responsible for booking much of the region's convention business, especially at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Those numbers do not include any in-year for-the-year bookings that will occur over the next two months.
Those events produced an economic impact for the region of about $966 million, an increase of about three percent from 2012's total of $934 million.
Where things start to get tricky is in the number and profile of citywide conventions now booked for the next several years. In 2013 there were 20 citywide conventions, those that reached 2,000 room nights on peak days. That number drops to 17 next year, itself not a steep drop. But according to PCVB President and CEO Jack Ferguson, next year's citywides on average contain less room nights than those in 2013. This leaves Ferguson's salespeople as well as those from the region's hotels and tourism-related businesses to make up the shortfall.
"There's business out there (to be booked)," Ferguson said, "and we are there for them."
"The hotels will have to work extremely hard to secure short-term business," Ferguson recently added. Large citywide conventions tend to be booked several years in advance meaning the numbers currently on the books will not change much. He added that the years after 2014 present similar challenges.
One thing that will change with the new year is the management of the convention center. West Conshohocken-based SMG is about to take over management of the center from the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority which has run the building for its first 20 years. SMG, which runs convention centers and arenas around the country has a reputation for financial and customer service management, traits which the PCVB hopes will help it attract associations that otherwise might take a pass on booking their events here.
Ferguson noted that SMG manages the convention centers in Denver, San Francisco and Chicago, cities on regular rotation for many of the groups he would like booked here.
"I got so many emails from people that this was a game changer," said Ferguson about the period immediately following the authority's election of SMG to run the center. "They are a recognized brand."