5 ways the Democratic National Convention is affecting Philadelphia

Today is the start of the Democratic National Convention, which is ramping up room rates in Philadelphia in much the same way the Republican convention did last week in Cleveland. Twenty-six Philadelphia hotels are currently host to 57 state and territory delegations, all of whom are making their way each morning to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia for party events.

Political conventions are not strangers to high guestroom bills, but the 2016 presidential election is bringing in numbers like no other. A room at the Marriott Hotel Philadelphia Downtown is reportedly going for roughly $4,000 for five nights, leading some delegates to begin sharing rooms in order to keep costs down — in one case five guests to a single room.

The convention runs through Thursday and is expected to give a substantial boost to Philadelphia’s tourism numbers for the year. The city’s tourism bureau said in a statement that Philadelphia had a lucrative Memorial Day weekend with respect to hotel occupancy, the highest in more than a decade, and events like the DNC are looking to boost its numbers even further. Here are five things we know about this year’s convention and how it has affected Philadelphia:

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DoubleTree by Hilton Philadelphia
Rooms rates in Philadelphia's hotels are shooting sky-high as a result of the Democratic National Convention.

1. No Rate Is Too High

Under normal circumstances, hotels will haggle over rates with groups to a degree in order to secure their business. But with the DNC, operators are finding delegates are willing to pay anything.

“The DNC - they don't get involved. They just took the price ... there's some pretty high prices. There's some huge prices out there,” Kevin Murnane, GM of the Doubletree by Hilton Center City, said in a statement. 

The DoubleTree’s rates weren’t made available at the time of this writing, but an online listing for a room at the hotel showed a discounted rate of $2,100 for five nights, a rate one delegate was willing to raise money from crowdsourcing in order to afford.

2. The Boom Is Spreading Outside of Philadelphia

Hotels in new Castle County, Del., are seeing a boost as well thanks to the DNC, with some GMs reporting a gradual increase in bookings as the event drew closer. However, this boost isn’t expected to be as large as the one Delaware hotels saw in 2000 during the Republican National Convention. At that time, nearly 1,500 rooms were booked in the state, adding $3 million to the local economy, but a boost in Philadelphia hotel development since then may have added more rooms capable of keeping demand within the city’s walls.

3. ...But Delegates Are Staying Out of New Jersey

New Jersey hotels are lamenting a lost opportunity to cash in on the DNC’s visit to Philadelphia. None of the 6,000 travelers representing 57 state and territorial delegations are staying at a single hotel in the state. While at first this looks like a possible snub from the DNC, it seems that instead that Valley Forge, Pa., began canvassing for delegate hotel bookings 18 months ago. This could have turned attention away from New Jersey, but with the state’s own delegation—a delegation that requires no air travel—shacking up at the Renaissance Philadelphia Airport,  the situation may have a funny taste for New Jersey operators.

Philadelphia Marriott Downtown
Years of hotel development is paying off for Philadelphia as rooms are snapped up by members of the DNC, but neighboring states are seeing a smaller trickle of bookings.

4. Home-Sharing Operators Are Seizing the Moment

During the Republican convention in Cleveland, roughly 1,900 visitors stayed in homes listed on Airbnb, nearly four times as many than during other summer weeks. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has more than 5,200 travelers choosing Airbnb this week, 2.5 times more than usual for July, and it’s no secret why. With sky-high rates at hotels, Airbnb is soaking up residual bookings from hotels, likely also contributing to the dearth of bookings in nearby New Jersey.

“Historically, we've had a larger host community in Philadelphia,” Christopher McNulty, spokesman for Airbnb said in a statement. The company has 9,000 listings in Philadelphia compared to 2,000 in Cleveland. 

5. No One Is Sure Which City Is “Hotter”

While we are still too early in the convention process to know which city is pulling in higher revenues, travel site Hipmunk is already declaring Cleveland the winner. According to Hipmunk’s data, Cleveland saw a 148-percent increase in booking prices, from $180 in 2015 to $450 last week over the same period. Meanwhile, it claims that Philadelphia's prices have only increased 13 percent from $165 in 2015 to $186. Cleveland’s online search results also went up 393 percent compared to Philadelphia’s 265-percent bump.

But Wesley S. Roehl, professor of tourism management at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism & Hospitality Management, disputes those numbers. Roehl claims Hipmunk is only factoring in searches and data from its own users, leaving out a significant amount of data. Either way, it could be some time before we know the full figures since the DNC has only just begun.

“They should be comparing their data for Cleveland from one week ago to their current data for Philly since the markets for the two cities are at different points in the sales curve," Roehl said in a statement.

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