During the first two decades of the Independence Visitor Center, an average of 2.11 million people a year stopped by.
Some tourists coming to Philadelphia over Memorial Day weekend will plan everything online. Many more still want in-person counseling.
“You’d be surprised how many people come here and say, I’m here for the next three days, what should I do?” said James Cuorato, president and CEO of the nonprofit Independence Visitor Center Corporation (IVCC), which operates the center at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.
As CCSVI continues to recover from the pandemic, along with the rest of the travel and tourism industry, the non-profit organization takes stock of its economic impact over the past 20 years.
A new report reveals that from 2002 to 2021, visitors spent an additional $72 million per year in the area, on average, due to stopping at the center. Over the past 20 years, these additional expenses have totaled $1.43 billion, according to analysis by Econsult Solutions, Inc.
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“For many people, we are their first impression of Philadelphia,” Cuorato said. Visitors to the center “want to hear about the city’s hidden gems that may not get a lot of attention and want recommendations from someone who knows the city.”
Visitor Center staff will make restaurant and hotel suggestions to tourists, in addition to selling tickets to over 100 attractions, events and destinations. CCSVI also operates the Philly PHLASH Downtown Loop transit service that connects Penn’s Landing to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for $2 each way or $5 for a day pass.
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“People can purchase Franklin Institute tickets from their mobile device and travel directly to the Franklin Institute,” said Jennifer Nagle, Executive Vice President of CCSVI. “But we also know that there is a strong and large audience that is not pre-planned” and does not buy tickets online.
This crowd wants to “tip toe into their experience,” Nagle said, “and they’re going to start at the visitor center.”
CCSVI has an operating budget of about $4 million a year, Cuorato said, and the nonprofit raises about 80% of its own funding through its gift shop, sales tickets and the rental of event spaces. The center also receives up to $850,000 annually from the National Park Service.
The visitor center’s impact on the regional economy “is estimated to be between $116 million and $233 million” per year, according to the Econsult report, “supporting 1,100 to 2,200 jobs with revenues of $35 million to $71 million and $8 million to $16 million in state and local tax revenue.
For the full 20 years covered by the report, the regional economic impact of CCSVI is estimated between $2.33 billion and $4.66 billion.
The analysis takes into account visitor numbers from 2020 and 2021, years when “tourism volume and spending were heavily suppressed” due to the effects of COVID-19, the report noted.
Visitor center attendance averaged about 2.5 million people per year from 2015 to 2019.
Then, in 2020, when the visitor center was closed for more than 200 days during the pandemic, attendance dropped to 273,000 people. At the end of 2021, it had risen somewhat to 768,000.
This year promises to be better: 235,000 visitors came to the center between January and April, nearly double compared to the same period last year.
Cuorato expects the visitor center to return to pre-pandemic attendance levels by 2023, in line with tourism industry estimates.
“Weekdays are still a bit slow, but weekends have been great,” he said. “I think we’re ready for a really, really strong summer.”