Greater Philadelphia’s convention and large events industry is starting to transition back into the realm of in-person gatherings as Covid-19 vaccinations continue and people begin feeling more comfortable out and about.
Last month Philadelphia hosted East Coast Volleyball’s 2021 Northeast Volleyball Qualifier tournament, marking the city’s first large-scale, in-person event in more than a year because of the pandemic.
The citywide, meaning an event generating upwards of 2,000 hotel rooms nights on its busiest night, makes Philly the first major Northeast city to host such an event at a convention center in over a year ahead of Washington D.C., Baltimore, New York and Boston, according to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A spokeswoman for the organization told the Business Journal that there are nine additional citywides on the books throughout 2021 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which has spent upwards of $10 million on pandemic-related upgrades and other renovations during its downtime over the last year.
The business is welcome news for Philadelphia’s convention industry, which was on track to host a record number of citywides in 2020 before the pandemic hit. The visitors bureau ultimately lost 600 pieces of booked and tentative group business last year, resulting in losses of 735,774 hotel room nights and $430 million in economic activity, per the organization.
Northeast Volleyball Qualifier, which took place over the weekends spanning March 27-29, April 2-4 and April 9-11, drew 21,650 attendees to the city. The event spurred more than 11,000 room nights across 27 Philly hotels. The visitors bureau estimates the tournament’s overall economic impact at $14.3 million, generating $1.3 million in state and local taxes.
John McNichol, CEO at Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, called the recent volleyball tournament “an important turning point” for the industry.
“When we open our doors at the PCC, that means jobs are being supported, and not just here in our building, but in businesses and sectors across the city,” he added.
Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau is planning to launch a “Meet the Moment” campaign later this month aimed at drawing group business to Philadelphia hotels, venues and the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The initiative will encourage regional businesses to hold events and meetings locally to aid Philadelphia’s tourism recovery.
An early shift toward in-person programming is evident in the tourism and convention industry out at the Jersey Shore, too. A series of weekend in-person cheer competitions kicked off at the Wildwoods Convention Center in April and wrapped up last weekend.
The event was the first held at the beachfront events hub since the venue went dark last March at the hands of Covid-19, Wildwood tourism officials told the Business Journal. (Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at anticipated summer business along the Jersey Shore later this week).
Montgomery County is similarly wading back into in-person events.
Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board on Monday hosted its first in-person event in more than a year outdoors at the Bluestone Country Club. The 100-person gathering was held to highlight the suburban tourism organization’s 2021 strategic initiatives, which include stimulating business in the local tourism and hospitality sectors and hosting upwards of 30 summer events.
Summer events in Montco includes two lacrosse showcases, the inaugural esports festival at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, a national field hockey event at the Proving Grounds in Conshohocken, a girls’ flag football tournament complete with college scouts, and the USA Climbing North American Cup Series.
The 30-plus summer events are anticipated to generate more than 20,000 room nights and $20 million in economic impact, according to Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.
The Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour is also slated for Bluestone from Sept. 20-22. in the event’s first time coming to the Northeast.
“Our industry has been bent, sure, but not broken,” Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board CEO Mike Bowman said, noting his excitement around having an in-person event again. “Travel can change us, shape us, and have a positive impact on all of our lives. We need that now more than ever, and we know that our suburbs is going to come out of this strong.”