International travel to Philly on the rise

Philadelphia, which shone brightly during the Democratic National Convention, is drawing more international visitors.

Foreign travel to Philadelphia increased by 3 percent in 2015, due in small part to a bump the week Pope Francis came to town.

Last year, 638,300 overseas visitors came to Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), which tracks international tourism patterns through the U.S. Department of Commerce. About 620,000 foreign visitors came in 2014.

The increase follows a large decline in 2014, when international visits decreased by 8 percent.

Brian Said, executive director of the tourism division for the PHLCVB, said more travelers from Asia and Australia contributed to the increase.

Despite there being no direct flights from the Pacific Rim to Philadelphia, travel from China grew 14.7 percent over 2014, followed by an 11.8 percent increase in travel from Australia. Travel from India grew 5.6 percent.

In March 2015, the PHLCVB opened an office in China to encourage travel to Philadelphia. The PHLCVB also has representatives in India, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, and Spain.

"We look at who's going to New York and who's going to D.C., and if we see people are going there and not Philadelphia, we flag that as ground zero," Said said. "We've found out people don't know much about Philadelphia. Anything beyond Rocky is unknown."

Britain remains the most popular launchpad for overseas tourists. Visitors from Britain grew by 4.5 percent in 2015.

Germany, China, India, and France rounded out the top five countries sending tourists here.

Travel from Britain is expected to slow, however, given the nation's vote to leave the European Union, which has caused a drop in the value of the pound.

Erik Evjen, director of research at the PHLCVB, said he expected the increase in international travel to continue.

Evjen predicted that about 656,000 tourists will have come to Philadelphia by the end of 2016, a 2.7 percent increase over the 2015 numbers. That's still below the 673,000 who visited in 2013.

Philadelphia ranks 15th on the list of the 20 most popular U.S. cities for overseas visitors.

Marketing the city is only half the battle, said Evjen. The city also must increase its number of hotel rooms.

"After conventions, we have limited rooms for international and other markets, so we really want to make sure as we attract people, we have rooms for people to stay in," he said.

The top spending categories and average spent per visitor (excluding food, lodging and transportation) were $434 in shopping and $200 in entertainment.

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso

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