Democrat Convention 2016 and the Pope’s visit to revitalize economy

Jeff Robinson
Jeff Robinson
Guest columnist

Travel and tourism experts estimate that the 2016 Democratic National Convention being hosted in Philadelphia will generate well over $200 million for the local economy.  Not to be outdone, the Pope’s visit will provide more than $400 million in financial impact to the region when the pontiff visits for the World Meeting of Families in late September.  Two events of this size and scope bookending a ten-month window for the country’s fifth largest city just has to be a financial and public relations win … right?

The easy answer, of course — for me and all people like me that are invested in cultivating critical tourism revenue to our area — is yes.  Hospitality-oriented industries such as hotels, restaurants and attractions, as well as the business community as a whole, will benefit.  Not only are rooms filled, houses rented, reservations made and museums patronized, but the buzz that is created by the spotlight garners television and Internet coverage that’s invaluable.

Tourism is an industry that understands and respects the concept of regionality.  What’s good for Dover is often good for Rehoboth.  When an event books in Delaware County, Pa., it can easily benefit New Castle County, Del.  The ripple effect of that stone splashing down on Ben Franklin Parkway will be easily felt in a region that extends well beyond the Keystone State and into Delaware, Maryland and South Jersey.

Despite “substitution” — when tourists or day-to-day local business actually stays away and chooses other options because of massive events like either of these — windfalls like the Pope’s visit and the DNC are still hits.  Both events certainly will carry very high costs, with investment in infrastructure, upgrades, security and more conservatively estimated at over $50 million for each event.

Many feel that the difference between either being a “single” or a “grand slam,” will be gauged by the residuals.  If a business professional experiences the region during the 2016 DNC, it’s the responsibility of the host city to tout its capacity to earn and retain new business.  If it ably coordinates the multitude of logistics required to put on a complicated event, it helps prove that it has the systems and support required to accommodate growth and the employees that accompany those new businesses.

Likewise, if a guest experiences a few days in our area for the Pope’s visit, her interest may be piqued to return again soon with a spouse and children to enjoy the arts, culture and cuisine that she may have missed when visiting with friends or colleagues.

The restaurants, hotels and venues that focus on capturing customer data — and positioning themselves to invite these visitors back to our area for a more extensive visit — will have an early leg up on winning customers over time.  Further, a willingness to team up with partners on a package will earn an additional strategic advantage.  Hotel packages with a restaurant and golf course will attract some visitors, while a spa and an attraction will work well for another.

By this measure, maybe these events are not the finish line, but rather, the starting line. 

Jeff Robinson is the Director of Hospitality Operations for Forewinds Hospitality, a Delaware-based hospitality management company, and also serves on the Board Of Directors for the Greater Wilmington & Brandywine Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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