Writer: Joey Garrand
2 min read May 2022 — While overall travel in Philadelphia is anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity potentially by late 2023, the various segments of travel are not recovering at equal speeds.
“Based on how things are trending, we expect our numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels sometime in 2024, or maybe even late 2023,” said Gregg Caren, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. According to Caren, leisure tourism has recovered the quickest, representing approximately 60% of the travel to Philadelphia today. Convention groups, meetings and trade shows are anticipated to return next, and individual business travelers are projected as the last group to ramp back up. Pre-pandemic, each of these three segments represented approximately a third of the travel mix.
Various local leaders have also shared with Invest: insights into the lag of business travel combined with strong leisure, with a full recovery anticipated in the coming few years. “Before the pandemic, much of our demand was in business travel and people coming into the city for meetings and events. Since the pandemic, we are focusing much more on accommodating people who are vacationing or perhaps mixing leisure and work,” said Complex General Manager of W Philadelphia and Element Philadelphia Edward Baten in an interview with Invest:. “We’re still about two to three years away from getting back to our 2019 numbers.”
According to a report by Deloitte Insights, business travel is at least two years from reaching pre-pandemic spending, potentially reaching 55% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022. In part to blame is remote work, which is making it difficult to schedule in-person sales visits and client project work. Among work-from-home-dominant companies where the average employee comes to the office zero to two days a week, just over a third expect their corporate travel spend to recover by the end of 2023, stated the report.
Regarding the attendance of convention groups, meetings and trade shows, the events themselves are nearing or have returned to full speed while the attendance is lagging. “In 2019, Philadelphia hosted 19 citywide events booked by the PHLCVB. Those are the larger events that utilize the Pennsylvania Convention Center as well as multiple local hotels. In normal times, these events have attracted about 800,000 to a million attendees per year. This year we will also have 19 citywide events, but they are expected to attract an estimated 450,000 attendees as folks get more comfortable with travel again,” said Caren.
While “hybrid” is the magic word in the post-pandemic landscape, there’s general agreement among the business community that there is a degree of in-person connection that can’t be replicated in a virtual environment. “There is a re-awakening of meetings and face-to-face events following the pandemic,” said Caren. “People are starved for face-to-face human interaction. Everyone is talking about how digital conferencing will alter the workplace because we can re-create an environment where people can communicate on screen in real time. However, online conferencing will never replace the type of networking that occurs in a hotel lobby or on a trade show floor.”