While destinations such as Las Vegas had their boom in the last decade and are now experiencing a rather serious slump, other U.S. cities are now counting the addition of new hotel rooms as evidence of a tourism and business renaissance. Philadelphia, which has been stagnating ever since the Republican National Convention in 2000, is experiencing new growth of hotel space. Eight hotel projects underway will see the city’s hotel rooms boosted by more than 2,000, or about 20 percent.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia is experiencing a surge in visitors for both tourism and business travel, and developers are banking on it by raising the new hotel structures.
“Boosters say the increase in rooms is needed to sustain the city's growing national profile as a travel destination,” wrote the Inquirer’s Jacob Edelman. “Driving the demand are increased activity at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the city's growing medical and tech industries, and a louder-than-ever national buzz about Philly as a great place to visit.”
While historic attractions such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall have been the bedrock of the city’s tourism for a long time, tourism officials say the annual number of visitors to Philadelphia has increased by more than 50 percent in less than 20 years. Business conventions are one of the reasons cited for higher numbers of tourists, but sports tourism cannot be discounted, either. The city boasts a significant group of professional sports teams: the Philadelphia Phillies of Major League Baseball, the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association and the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League.
The city unsuccessfully bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games – the winning bid was awarded to Rio de Janeiro -- but did win a number of other events, including the including the ESPN X Games, the NBA and Major League Baseball all-star weekends, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, U.S. championships in both gymnastics and figure skating, the World Dragon Boat Racing Championship, the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships, the Army-Navy Game and NCAA Men’s Basketball East Regionals.
The city also holds a number of special events to attract more tourists, sporting and otherwise. Last year, the city’s Bassmaster Elite tournament was held on the Delaware River, attracting more than 100 bass fisherman angling (literally) after a $100,000 prize. The event, coordinated by the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, generated significant spending in local hotels and other businesses dependent on the tourism industry, according to local Philadelphia news magazine The Jewish Exponent.
In another good omen for the city, Center City-area hotel-occupancy rates reached almost 76 percent last year -- the highest rate since 1949 -- from just over 73 percent in 2013, according to industry-tracker PKF Consulting/CBRE Hotels. Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, told The Inquirer that he's seeing "more optimism in the industry than I have ever seen."