PHILADELPHIA -- Frantic hotel construction, new attractions and a
booming convention business highlighted by next summer's Republic
National Convention have officials here believing things have never
looked brighter in the City of Brotherly Love.
Fresh off showcasing the city to more than 3,000 delegates of
Meeting Professionals International last month, Mike Gamble, senior
vice president of sales and marketing for the Philadelphia
Convention & Visitors Bureau, said things are just starting to
"There's a tremendous amount of growth going on in Philadelphia
right now -- a sense of readying for the convention," Gamble
"We will add more than 4,000 hotel rooms by the time the RNC
arrives in July 2000. It's amazing growth."
When all is said is done, the city will have more than 3,000
hotel rooms within a two block walk of the Pennsylvania Convention
Center, Gamble said.
Some of those new developments include: the recent completion of
the expansion of the 1,410-room Philadelphia Marriott, which
connects directly to the Pennsylvania Convention Center,
construction on the 500-room Marriott Courtyard, the 583-room Loews
Philadelphia Hotel, the 350-room Ritz Carlton, Philadelphia, the
193-room Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel.
In the next 12 months, Philadelphia will increase its hotel
inventory 60%, bringing room counts to 10,000 in Philadelphia and
30,000 in the metropolitan area, according to Sue Schwenderman,
director of communications for the PCVB.
And the city may need every one of them to accommodate the
40,000 or so the PCVB is expecting to descend for the RNC next
summer, Schwenderman said.
But MPI and the RNC are just half of the pieces to the PCVB's
puzzle, Gamble said.
In August 2001, the Washington-based American Society of
Association Executives will hit Philadelphia for its show, while
Birmingham, Ala.-based Professional Convention Management
Association recently signed on for its 2006 show.
"No other convention city has accomplished what Philadelphia has
in such a short time," Tom Muldoon, president of the PCVB said.
Since the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 1994,
Philadelphia has hosted many of the industry's largest conventions
and become the top convention destination in the Northeast.
Philadelphia's downtown room rate averages $140 a night,
considerably cheaper than nearby New York, Washington and
Gamble has his sights set clearly on the biggest players -- Las
Vegas, Orlando and Chicago.
"I've never understood what exactly determines first-tier or
second-tier convention cities," Gamble said. "But, we absolutely
consider ourselves a first-tier convention city, not just a major
player in the Northeast."
But with new hotels popping up like wildflowers, will there
continue to be enough demand to keep occupancy levels -- which have
been running in the 75% range -- up?
"That's obviously a concern for us. This type of room inventory
growth in such a short time is unheard of and it's going to be
nearly impossible to keep the occupancy rates as high as they are
now," Gamble said.
"We're going to have our work cut out for us, but the demand is
The PCVB is responsible for some 40 city-wide conventions to the
convention center a year, as well as bringing in more than 600
smaller groups a year to the city.
In addition, The PCVB said it is booking some 24 shows a year
requiring 2,000 or more room nights. Gamble said that number will
have to climb to about 28 a year to keep up with the additional
There's a plan in the works to expand the convention center, but
that's still several years away, the PCVB said.
With the possibility of under demand in the next few years,
Philadelphia has become a bit of meeting planners dream, Gamble
"We get unprecedented cooperation from the hotels as far as
securing room blocks for large shows," Gamble said.
"We blocked more than 90% of the city's available hotel rooms
for the RNC. We don't get quite the leisure or corporate market of
a New York, Washington or Boston, so we get total cooperation from
the city hotels."
Another advantage planners will soon find is the September
launch of the PCVB Web site, located at www.pcvb.org.
One of the new features, Gamble said, is the ability to key in
questions about meetings in Philadelphia and get immediate
"Visitors to the Web site will be able to converse and interact
with a PCVB representative on line," Gamble said.
"The computer will indicate that someone's inquiring on line and
one of our representatives will handle it as though someone was
walking up to the desk in the visitor center."
For the future of the site, Gamble said he envisions users being
able to do anything and everything on the site, including
electronic site inspections and RFPs on line.
Other new brick-and-mortar developments in Philadelphia include:
Lights of Liberty, a sound and light show that enables visitors to
experience the events of the American revolution; DisneyQuest,
Disney's indoor, interactive theme park set to open in the summer
of 2000, a family entertainment complex on the Penn's Landing
Finally, a plan is in the final stages to bring a baseball
stadium to a downtown site just two blocks from the convention
center in 2002 or 2003.