Pennsylvania Celebrates Hotel Gains, Philly Laments Hotel Losses

Pennsylvania's tourism industry sold more hotel rooms in 2010 than ever before, the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism announced this month — just a week before the state received a sour report on the state of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

According to that report, the City of Brotherly Love lost out on 400,000 hotel room nights between 2007 and 2009 due to convention center shortcomings, the most significant of which is labor costs, which prompted three dozen groups to choose other destinations over Philadelphia during a three-year period.

Pennsylvania Convention Center President and CEO Ahmeenah Young reportedly has been lobbying for a solution to the convention center's labor problems. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, she says the facility's existing labor structure — which includes more labor unions than any other convention center in the nation — "undermines an ability to stay competitive," even as it prepares to double in size, courtesy of $786 million expansion that's opening in March.

Other problems, according to the report, include the facility's lack of experienced hospitality staff and its vacancies in key positions, including chief financial officer, chief technology officer and national sales manager.

"Filling vacancies in key areas prior to expansion with qualified personnel who have convention/hospitality experience is critical," wrote the report's author, Susan Sieger of Tampa-based Crossroads Consulting Services, according to Inquirer.

Sieger reportedly made several recommendations to the state about how it can make the convention center more competitive. For instance, she suggested creating a long-term labor agreement that outlines union jurisdictions and work rules, increasing the involvement of the convention center's board in its budgeting process, reducing operating deficits, and defining clear roles and responsibilities for department heads.

Sieger also called on the city to build more hotel rooms. "Future hotel supply both proximate to the [convention center] and citywide will play an important role in the expanded center's marketability, particularly relative to its ability to host simultaneous and/or conventions/trade shows with high attendance," she wrote, according to Inquirer.

Still, hotels clearly are a bright spot for Pennsylvania, as the state's tourism office said this month that record hotel room sales — totaling 27.5 million hotel room nights — generated $2.8 billion in room revenue last year and supported $165 million in hotel occupancy taxes.

"We are back and seeing an increase in room nights sold in every region of the state," said Deputy Secretary for Tourism Mickey Rowley.

Currently, Pennsylvania is the fifth-most visited state in the country, with an average of 138 million guests annually.