Thousands of visitors will begin arriving in the region this weekend for the Democratic National Convention being held July 25-28 in Philadelphia. An estimated 6,000 delegates and alternates will participate in convention week activities, and thousands more are expected to join the festivities.
That’s good news for the region’s economy, officials say, with some estimating the impact at more than $17 million just in the region served by the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.
For months, area convention and tourism groups from Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties have worked closely with convention organizers to assure that hotel rooms were booked and delegates were made aware of everything the region has to offer.
Hotels are heavily booked, “especially the ones by the airport,” said Tore Fiore, executive director of Destination Delco, Delaware County’s tourism bureau. But the impact was felt all over the county, even in the Chadds Ford/Glen Mills area that’s farther out, Fiore said.
He predicted almost every hotel in the near-in suburbs would be filled for much of the convention next week.
“The truth is, it’s very simple,” Fiore said of hotels taking advantage of the convention business. “Without doing any marketing (the national gathering draws bookings). The event markets itself.
“They start in the city and work their way out,” Fiore explained. “You will see a nice uptick in occupancy, especially (the ones) in Montgomery and Delaware counties that are closer. It’s actually faster to get to the Wells Fargo Center (from airport hotels) than it is from Center City.”
Planning is paying off
Mike Bowman is CEO and president of the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. He said planning for this event began months ago, and ongoing communications with organizers and hotels has paid off for the region in terms of expected revenue and booked hotel rooms.
The Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board estimates the economic impact of the convention on Montgomery County at more than $17 million.
“The results are much better than we anticipated. A lot of it has to do with our relationship with the Philadelphia Convention and Tourism Board and the DNC housing group,” Bowman said.
More than 16,000 room nights have been booked throughout the convention at 27 area hotels in Montgomery and Chester counties. Convention delegates from 21 states and territories are staying in hotels in Valley Forge, King of Prussia, Norristown, Conshohocken, Lansdale, Oaks, Malvern and Plymouth Meeting. The expected number of visitors is 5,500, which includes delegates, spouses, and families.
Bowman said earlier estimates were much lower, but the number of bookings jumped in early July.
“A lot has to do with proximity, and the amenities Montgomery County has. Organizers have been very impressed with what we offer,” he said.
He added that the county’s effort to position itself as a key location for the convention started in the fall, when convention officials began to explore the county.
At the beginning of the year, each state delegation received a welcome kit with a travel guide and restaurant listing. More recently, the delegations received a video featuring Bowman and Valley Forge National Historical Park Superintendent Kate Hammond walking around the park.
The Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board communicated regularly with the hotels, restaurants, golf courses and other entertainment and shopping venues, holding meetings recently with representatives of the hotels to keep them informed.
“Because of us getting out ahead of the curve to delegates and associates — they reached out early to set up events, dinner, and such,” Bowman said.
Anticipating ‘a great day’
The goal for locations farther from the city is to capture the attention of convention attendees and their guests, said Nina Kelly, director of marketing and communications at the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau.
The county, like others in the region, is featured on the official VisitPhilly.com website for convention visitors, and has brochures available throughout Philadelphia.
“There is a little direct impact (for Chester County hotels) but more importantly is the traffic we get from that website,” Kelly said. “The biggest thing is the eyes of the world are on our region, and we want it to shine. We want them to come back.”
As the delegates arrive at the 27 Montgomery and Malvern-area hotels, they’ll be given a welcome bag prepared by the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. The bags are full of coupons and information about the area.
A total of 3,000 bags were prepared, including a total of 60,000 pieces of collateral.
“This is an exciting time. It’s going to allow us to showcase all of the wonderful hotels, the great experiences and restaurants that we get to enjoy each and every day for ourselves and our colleagues. This is going to be a great day for Montgomery County,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Chairman Josh Shapiro, who joined last week’s effort to put the bags together.
Michael Chain, general manager of The Desmond Hotel near Malvern, said his is one of the Chester County hotels — mostly along Route 202 in the Great Valley area that have seen bookings from convention-goers.
“We are hosting two groups with at least 120-plus rooms for four nights minimum,” Chain said.
The convention organizers did an extensive site visit to make sure the hotel was appropriate for participants and to make sure transportation to the city would work, Chain said.
“It’s terrific business for us, we’re all excited” Chain said.
About the only changes in operation the hotel has to make to accommodate the conventioneers is extending kitchen hours.
“To me, on the surface, it looks like a great piece of business for everybody in the region,” Chain said.
Pulling out all the stops
Delegates from three states will be housed at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, and the hotel expects to be at or near capacity during the event, according to a statement.
“While most of the activities will be happening across the city, we have worked with the delegations to ensure their stay is a positive one. The hours of operation for some of our restaurants will be extended to accommodate the late evening return of our DNC guests,” said Jennifer Galle, chief marketing officer at Valley Forge Casino Resort in the statement.
During delegate down time and for their families, many area shopping and entertainment venues are hoping to see an increase in visitors.
The Valley Forge National Historic Park will be operating normally, according to a spokesman.
The King of Prussia Mall added vouchers to the welcome bags being distributed to delegates that will, “invite visitors to stop by one of two Simon guest service centers at the mall, where they can redeem the voucher for a small gift,” according to a statement from the mall.
Once the delegates are in the area, the work of the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board will continue, according to spokesman Dan Weckerly.
“We want the delegates to know we are here as a resource. There will be volunteers in all the hotel lobbies, and we will have staff circulating around to the various locations to see if the we can assist,” he said.
In delegates’ rooms, they’ll be able to watch a welcome message featuring the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board, Shapiro and Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh.
“We’re doing everything we can to make people feel welcome while they’re here and to have a reason to come back,” said Ed Harris, vice president, marketing and communications — Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.
Fiore called events like the convention and the recent visit by Pope Francis “windfalls.”
“It’s something that falls into your lap,” Fiore said. “You just say, ‘thank you, God.’”
To help delegates and visitors stay connected, the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board has launched a microsite — www.valleyforge.org/dnc.
In addition, the host committee for the Democratic National Convention launched the hashtag #DNCDeals is encouraging area businesses to share their deals on social media channels.