Casinos Remake Philly Tourism
In less than a decade, Pennsylvania’s gaming industry has gone from zero to Danny Ocean, but get ready for more, according to the speakers at our recent Philadelphia Hospitality & Casino Summit at The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia. Gaming promises to grow into one of the main attractions, working with other growing parts of the tourism business to attract more visitors--and keep them here longer.
Temple University associate professor Elizabeth Barber used her opening remarks to show how gaming is bringing in money: last year, the state’s 12 casinos boosted the Pennsylvania economy to the tune of $4.8B, with patrons spending $1.4B outside the gaming establishments on food, entertainment, accommodations and shopping. Last month, Live! Hotel & Casino won the license to be the city’s second casino, a 200k SF venue in South Philly with 2,000 slots and 125 table games--in walking distance to the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.
Here's Harrah’s Philadephia assistant GM Randy Conroy. In the early days of casinos in Pennsylvania, our speakers say, developers took more of a big-box approach: fill it with slot machines and tables, add a few restaurants, and people will come. And they did, including those fed up with the expense of Atlantic City. But now, nearly a decade later, casino visitors still love the games, but they want a total experience--think fine dining and first-rate entertainment. That demand is across all demographics: young, middle-aged and seniors are all looking for a broader experience.
Valley Forge Casino CEPO Mike Bowman. The speakers point out that Philly nightlife was anemic for a long time, with options petering out late in the evening. (The Liberty Bell at night is nothing more than a glorified alarm clock.) The arrival of casinos and their related entertainment changed that, offering more late-night options, though nightlife is still a little short. The next generations of casinos will help improve that.
Visit Philadelphia CEO Meryl Levitz. Philadelphia doesn’t have a single big “wow” factor, though “food” is the first thing that comes to mind these days, our panelists note. Some of the smaller "wows" include discovering that the city’s walkable and safe, and that the arts and culture scene is thriving. Visitors take that knowledge home, and it becomes strong word-of-mouth, which will be a tremendously important force in the tourism business in the coming years.
Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Jack Ferguson. Last year, 33 million people came to the five-county area, and visitor surveys find that one of Philadelphia’s strengths is its urban texture--the streetscapes, green space, small shops, and details like bike racks and flower boxes and stoops. The neighborhoods are also very popular because visitors want local experiences. They want to see and do things they can’t anywhere else, and Philadelphia offers them that. Tune in next edition for further coverage.