How Does the Tourism Industry Benefit Pittsburgh’s Communities?
Jul 30, 2014 11:24AM ● Published by Jack Etzel
North Hills Monthly Magazine (NHMM): We already know this is a great city; is it really that important when Pittsburgh gets another award like the Travel Channel naming it one of the best vacation destinations?
Craig Davis: Absolutely. We use such ratings in advertising messages, on our website and on social media channels. In this case, we did a press conference, a press tour and an advertising campaign around it. In 2012, when Natural Geographic named us to its ‘Best in the World’ list, we were able to use it much to our advantage.
NHMM: How do you convince a convention or individual travelers to come to Pittsburgh?
Craig Davis: Our salespeople are great. They approach conventions, sporting events, meetings—things that will fill our convention center, stadiums and hotel rooms. This includes national and state associations, sports organizations, governments and more. For smaller groups, we target those around 500 miles away, so that they’re far enough away to require staying overnight.
NHMM: How would you describe your business model?
Craig Davis: Our whole mission is to fill hotel rooms. By extension, that includes restaurant seats, stadium seats, theater seats, shopping in stores and much more. Our mission includes bringing people in from the outside. We want them to stay in a hotel, because that is essential. We serve the convention market and the tourism sales market. Quite frankly, we bring those on the outside inside so they will spend a lot of money in the Pittsburgh market. However, when all is said and done, there is more to it than just visitors bringing in dollars; tourism really does build community. We must be doing something very right to draw more visitors than our competitors.
NHMM: That implies that visitor spending has increased. Can you share those numbers?
Craig Davis: First, I would like to stress that Visit Pittsburgh does not take credit for the entire visitor spending. The results rely on numerous things, including market conditions, industry growth and the great efforts of hundreds of hospitality and meeting industry partners.
As for the figures you ask about, a few months ago at our 2014 annual meeting, we revealed that the travel and tourism industry in Allegheny County generated $5.5 billion dollars in spending, supporting 39,000 jobs and creating nearly $340 million in tax revenues. Our convention sales team booked 590 meeting and conventions for 2013 and beyond; an increase of 14 more conventions than the previous year, and we are already selling events that will take place in 2024. We sold 252,249 room nights in 2013 and bookings that represent anticipated direct spending of $201 million.
By extrapolation, the taxes that are paid by visitors to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County help to offset about $645 per household in public services. In other words, when someone comes in from the outside and stays here, the taxes that they pay help the county provide $645 worth of those services to every household in Allegheny County. That’s just one more way our business is good for everyone. On so many levels, tourism is big—it’s now the fourth largest industry in Allegheny County.
NHMM: You work with a budget of about $10 million. How are you funded?
Craig Davis: To be precise, it’s $10.5 million and approximately $8.5 million of it comes from the hotel tax. Another major source comes from the fact that we are a partnership organization, and many corporations, hotels and other organizations pay to partner with us. We also sell advertising space on our website as well as in all of our trade magazines.
NHMM: As the official tourism marketing and promotion agency of this region, to whom are you accountable?
Craig Davis: We are a completely nonprofit independent agency with our own board of directors and own executive committee. The only thing making us sort of semi-public is that we receive a portion of the hotel tax that’s collected in Allegheny County.
NHMM: Over the years, Pittsburgh has suffered from having a bad reputation when it comes to being a destination point. How do you see this changing?
Craig Davis: Any bad reputation we had is quickly going away. The truth is that Pittsburgh’s tourism economy has been expanding every year for about the last 20 years. We’ve built more hotels, and the value and cost of hotel rooms has gone up every year. More people are coming to visit for many good reasons, and they’re spending more money. We are finally a truly high-demand tourism market. We’re a sports-lovers’ paradise, we have the Science Center, Children’s Museum, and so much more.
NHMM: To what do you credit the difference?
Craig Davis: What changed our fortunes was when the convention center was built. That allowed us to access a whole new level of conventions that were willing and able to pay a premium rate. The city of Pittsburgh is now a great and strong magnet for many of those larger conventions. That ‘bad reputation’ town to which you referred can today boast a $5.5 billion industry of conventions and tourism.