Wednesday, March 24, 2010

VisitPittsburgh: 2009 Good Despite Rough Economy

VisitPittsburgh says 2009 was a good year despite the down economy but the nagging problem of not having enough hotel rooms continues. Before its annual meeting downtown this morning, President Joe Mc Grath noted how VisitPittsburgh took advantage of the region being in the spotlight several times in 2009 to spread the word about the city’s tourism and convention opportunities. He says the year began with a Steelers Super Bowl win, followed by the Penguins Stanley Cup victory and a bass fishing tournament and then wrapped up with the hosting of the G20 Pittsburgh Summit to end the year with a bang. Mc Grath says the G20 Summit has directly resulted in at least 5 conventions booking in the city already.

In 2009 Pittsburgh ranked second in the nation in “revenue per available room” and 8th in hotel room occupancy rates. Mc Grath says those numbers are both good and bad. He says it is good that visitors are coming to the region for business and leisure travel but it is bad because it points to the need for more rooms. VisitPittsburgh is in the process of trying to land a large 2015 convention and had to talk to eight different hotels to pull together the 1,200 rooms needed to host the gathering. Mc Grath says in the past they would have needed only three hotels but strong demand means hotels can’t commit the space to the conventions.

Mc Grath says convention traffic faired well in 2009. The annual report shows, “In 2009, VisitPittsburgh’s Convention Sales Department booked 434 meetings and conventions for 2009 and beyond, including 47 conventions accounting for 191 usage days at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.” Mc Grath says Pittsburgh has been helped by the recent scrutinity of convention locations. Several news stories have ridiculed events for going to “resort” locations and Mc Grath says Pittsburgh does not suffer from that reputation.

Mc Grath says the slow economy also helped the region’s recreational tourism numbers. He says people were taking vacations but rather than heading to Europe or the Caribbean they were staying closer to home and many of them were coming to Pittsburgh. The report shows visitor traffic from targeted zip codes where VisitPittsburgh advertised was up 11%, while spending from those visitors rose 13% in 2009. Mc Grath says they will be focusing their tourism advertising on Cleveland this year and VisitPittsburgh has formed a partnership with a similar group in Cleveland. In addition, the June launch of a direct flight between Pittsburgh and Paris seems to be helping fill a few hotel rooms.

Budget issues continued to be a problem for VisitPittsburgh. Mc Grath called it a “tremendous challenge.” The annual report says nearly all grant revenue came in below VisitPittsburgh’s budgeted levels and state funding cuts hit hard. In 2009, state funding declined to less than $750,000, as compared to $2.3 million in 2008.

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