PITTSBURGH — 2015 marked an outstanding year for meetings, conventions and tourism in Pittsburgh.
At VisitPITTSBURGH's 80th Annual Meeting today at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, elected officials and senior staff reported positive results from a meetings and conventions industry perspective, as well as from a marketing and publicity standpoint. The theme — "We're Still Trending" — was used to showcase the plethora of positive accolades bestowed upon the city in 2015, such as "No. 1 Food City" by Zagat, TripAdvisor's "Destination on the Rise," and among Travel + Leisure's "Best Places to Travel."
"Pittsburgh continues to be a red-hot brand," said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH. "And as an economic development agency, we are able to capitalize on brand awareness to help create a positive economic impact for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County."
The organization's efforts in sales, marketing, and public relations helped to generate a banner year for meetings and conventions in Pittsburgh. The convention sales team contributed 259,960 rooms to the overall room night consumption for Allegheny County in 2015. The 496 meetings and conventions that were hosted in 2015 attracted 298,628 convention attendees, which contributed $184.4 million in direct spending to the local economy.
One noteworthy convention held last August was the Connect Marketplace and Connect SPORTS Marketplace/Olympic SportLink event that attracted nearly 800 meeting planners, and another 1,200 convention industry suppliers to the city. "This was an extremely important event since it could lead to substantial convention business for our city in the future," said Davis.
In 2015, the VisitPITTSBURGH convention sales team booked 577 meetings and conventions worth an estimated direct spending of $155.9 million. The team sold 272,852 room nights for 2015 and future years, extending as far out as 2023. Here is a sampling of major conventions, groups, and events booked by VisitPITTSBURGH in 2015:
- American Cheese Society's 2018 Annual Conference & Competition (2,217 room nights)
- American Specialty Toy Retailing Association's 2019 Marketplace & Academy (4,075 room nights)
- American String Teachers Association's 2017 National Conference (2,900 room nights)
- Communications Workers of America 2017 Convention (6,540 room nights)
- Land Trust Alliance's 2018 National Land Conservation Conference (2,130 room nights)
- National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts 2018 Annual Conference (3,515 room nights)
In addition, VisitPITTSBURGH's newly formed Sports Development Department continues to bring sports-related events into the city. In 2015, numerous sports events were booked, including:
- 2016 National High School Dance Festival (3,400 room nights)
- East Coast Volleyball's 2017 Championships (4,194 room nights)
- USA Karate's 2016 National Karate Championships & U.S. Team Trials (2,880 room nights)
- USA BMX 2016 Steel City National Series (3,061 room nights)
All told, the Sports Development team booked 52 events and 65,595 room nights, contributing $49.4 million in direct spending to Allegheny County. "The Sports Development team continues to demonstrate to event planners why Pittsburgh is a great destination for professional and amateur sports, but we will be a much stronger player with a formal sports commission," said Davis.
Pittsburgh hotels continue to perform at a high level. Smith Travel Research – the world's foremost source of hotel performance trends – reported that the percentage of available rooms in Allegheny County grew by 4.2 percent in 2015, while hotel occupancy remained even (67.3 percent) despite the increase in supply. "This really speaks to the vibrancy and attractiveness of Pittsburgh," said Davis.
RevPAR (hotel terminology for "revenue per available room") was up 3 percent in Allegheny County over 2014 and average daily rate (ADR) was up 3.4 percent. Among comparable cities such as Indianapolis, Charlotte, Milwaukee and eight other destinations, the Pittsburgh region overall ranked 2nd in both ADR and RevPAR.
The Allegheny County Treasurer's Office reported that hotel occupancy tax for 2015 was $34.3 million. This represents an 8.5 percent increase over 2014 and a 70 percent increase over a decade ago. "These are impressive numbers," said Davis. "And, we are proud of our strategic approach to marketing and advertising the Pittsburgh region that assisted in contributing to these positive returns."
In other news, VisitPITTSBURGH reported that 2015 marked a year of nearly unprecedented publicity for Pittsburgh. Last year, VisitPITTSBURGH helped generate more than 1,000 positive story placements. Stories about Pittsburgh as a great tourism destination appeared on a variety of media outlets, including USA Today, MSN, ABC News, The Huffington Post, Arrive (Amtrak's magazine) TravelWeek, Toronto Star and Travel + Leisure.
On the marketing front, VisitPITTSBURGH’s advertising ran in targeted markets, including Cleveland, Columbus, Buffalo, Erie, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York City and Toronto. The result was a 35 percent increase in inquiries from the markets in which VisitPITTSBURGH advertised. Campaigns focused on family fun, the arts, outdoor activities and events, including the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival and Highmark First Night. Area attractions tracked nearly 800,000 out-of-town visitors (by zip codes from targeted markets), representing a 15 percent increase over 2014.
"Pittsburgh is a great city, and we're still trending in large part due to the fabulous mix of the city’s inherent beauty, the affordability factor, our blossoming culinary scene, and the friendly Pittsburghers who make our guests feel welcomed," said Davis. "And we are looking forward to even more great things to come."
As the official tourism promotion agency for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, VisitPITTSBURGH is dedicated to generating conventions, trade show and leisure travel business for the Pittsburgh region.