Worldwide, ringing the bell for PHL

Arrivals Hall at Philadelphia International Airport. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to attract a part of the business from an expected jump in international travel.
Arrivals Hall at Philadelphia International Airport. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to attract a part of the business from an expected jump in international travel.
Posted: November 23, 2012

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism forecasts that international trips to the United States will grow 23 percent by 2016. The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau wants a big chunk of that business, whether through conventions, tourists, or students.

But with a stagnant budget of $11 million a year, the agency charged with selling space at the now-much-bigger Convention Center has had to improvise. So it conducted a six-month study with focus groups and partnered with City Hall, local businesses, restaurants, and universities, among others, to package Philadelphia as a modern renaissance city.

The fruit of its labor was presented to about 500 members of the region's hospitality community Wednesday at its annual luncheon.

"The Philadelphia brand presents great potential in capturing our share of the growing international market," said Jack Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of the bureau, which has adopted a new set of initials, PHLCVB, and is putting out a booklet, called "PHL," and a three-minute video as part of the campaign.

Total cost: Just under $100,000.

Ferguson presented the video, which features vibrant images of residents, shoppers, and sports enthusiasts, cultural attractions, and city neighborhoods, with an upbeat tempo in the background.

It was received with rousing applause from his audience at the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel.

Ferguson said the focus groups that his agency studied, comprising locals and international visitors, were very receptive to the shorthand PHL - which is also the destination code for Philadelphia International Airport and 30th Street Station. So the bureau adopted it as the namesake of the new marketing initiative.

PHL also went over well, he said, at the world's largest destination trade show last week in London, which attracted 35,000 participants (Ferguson and his sales staff included). The letters graced the banner at the Convention and Visitors Bureau's booth.

"PHL," the booklet, is divided into six narratives - "song sheets," as Ferguson calls them - to tout the city: Freedom, Democracy and America; Innovation and Education; Creative Spirit; Outdoor Life and Sports; Vibrant Street Life; and Accessible and Friendly. Each has accompanying images, facts, and graphics. (See the booklet at

"From Philadelphia's standpoint, it's the Brazils, Chinas, and Indias we're after," Ferguson said. "Each has a rising middle class, and they're very interested in Western culture. These pillars pull the Philadelphia story forward."

Mayor Nutter, who could not attend Wednesday's luncheon, appeared via video on large screens and encouraged those in attendance to become PHL partners.

"We can all be ambassadors to answer the question: Why choose Philadelphia?" he said.

Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. participated with the bureau in the focus groups to help shape the new campaign, and plans to leverage it while attracting businesses to the city.

"While all the statistics already show that Philadelphia is a dynamic and growing city, we need to capitalize on this success by consistently getting the word out across the region, around the country, and throughout the world," said PIDC president John Grady.

He noted, for instance, that PIDC and Nutter's office launched StartUp PHL a few weeks ago to highlight the city's entrepreneurial community, particularly tech start-ups. Next week, they will launch Shop PHL, which will focus on local shopping for the holidays.

Another PHL partner, Comcast Corp., is always looking for new talent, and the campaign can help in recruiting the best and the brightest, said Peter Intermaggio, senior vice president of marketing communications for Comcast Cable.

"Comcast is proud to have its headquarters here in Philadelphia," Intermaggio said, "but we compete for talent from all around the world."

As for his agency's bread and butter, Ferguson said 40 percent of city convention participants and exhibitors come from overseas.

"You're just not going up against the Bostons, New Yorks, and D.C.'s for their business," Ferguson said. "You are up against the world."

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or

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