Philadelphia is one of the only cities in the nation with two visitor marketing agencies.
That means it has two well-paid CEOs and two staffs dedicated to promoting the area.
That’s led some to wonder: Could taxpayer money be saved by combining Visit Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau?
Those who support a merger of the organizations, or at least think the city ought to consider the issue, will get a major boost next week: The Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association (GPHA) is planning to ask companies to submit bids to conduct a study of potential consolidation.
“We feel that it is good to periodically examine whether or not we are spending the money in the most effective way to market our city,” said GPHA executive director Ed Grose, stressing that “we do not have any foregone conclusions of what a study would say.”
GPHA’s board voted unanimously in February to help launch a study of a merger following a written request by Mayor Kenney’s administration to “consider initiating and funding” such an examination. The city’s hotel tax funds Visit Philadelphia and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Mayoral spokesman Mike Dunn said Kenney “has not yet made a determination about whether a merger is appropriate or advantageous.” But Dunn said it’s important “to ensure that we are maximizing our limited resources,” and that “moments of leadership transition generally provide a good opportunity to assess current practices and consider new opportunities.”
Meryl Levitz, who has been at the helm of Visit Philadelphia since it was created in 1996, is planning to retire at the end of the year.
A spokesman for Levitz said she was out of the office this week and not available for an interview.
Manuel Stamatakis, chairman of Visit Philadelphia’s board, said in a statement that “we always welcome opportunities to collaborate with strategic partners to build upon the incredible success of tourism and hospitality in the city.” However, he added, those accomplishments have been “rooted in the fact that our … separate hospitality organizations have focused on fulfilling their individual, unique missions.”
Visit Philadelphia works to encourage leisure tourism, while the Convention and Visitors Bureau focuses on attracting conventions to the city.
Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz said a merger of the groups could save at least $1 million.