Philadelphia aspires to be an international destination

Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Credit: Wiki Commons.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Credit: Wiki Commons.

Philly offers overseas visitors Americana.

We have history: Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Constitution Center. We have art: exhibitions, museums, murals.

And we also have stuff.

“Tax-free shopping on clothing and shoes is a highlight for international visitors,” said Danielle Cohn, spokeswoman for the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.

It’s no secret the city wants to go international: Wants to attract more international visitors, wants to entice international businesses.

But what do the out-of-towners want, and how do we get them here?

Councilman David Oh, who has championed the influx of more overseas visitors, said the city should attract some more high-end stores to capitalize on the would-be shoppers.

“They want to come to America,” Oh said, “And they want to leave with a bunch of stuff.”

Walnut Street has seen a retail renaissance. Along with Chestnut and Broad Streets and other spots in Center City and University City. Yeah, there is King of Prussia, but the goal is to keep tourists in the city.

“More retailers in general,” Cohn said. “Not just high-end, but just retailers.”

The running joke is travelers need to buy a second suitcase before they leave.

“Because you have so much stuff,” she said.

But before they can buy, they need to get here.

The recent merger of American Airlines and US Airways created the world’s largest airline. And Philadelphia and its international airport is set to benefit.

More flights to China and other Asian countries would create a pipeline.

Victoria Lupica, spokeswoman for the Airport, said currently “We do not have any flights to China, any service to China or Asia at this time.”

“However,” Lupica added, “We are certainty looking to expand that service.”

Luke Butler, a member of Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, said making the city a more attractive to international visitors, has become a priority. (Think cultural events, and bilingual city signs).

“And to really promote the variety of cultures, and ethnicities and nationalities we have living here,” Butler said.

Earlier this year, Nutter visited cities in Italy, China and Israel to foster closer relationships and raise the city’s intentional profile. He also led a trade delegation of local businesses to the United Kingdom and Israel to promote the city, attract foreign investors and help local businesses build trade relationships.

But there are no delusions about what the country’s hot spots are and who wants to visit them.

“They’re going to go New York,” Cohn said. “We’re not competing with New York.”

What the city is trying to do is capture some of the tourists, and keep them here for a few days. Maybe suggest they make Philadelphia their home base, because our hotels are a little less expensive, cost of living is a little less expensive, and the proximity to our big brother to the north and our little sister to the south is ideal. Hell, Boston isn’t that far, either. Neither is Atlanta or Nashville.

“We’re not trying to replace these other destinations,”  Cohn said. “We’re trying to leverage ours.”

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Follow Tommy Rowan on Twitter: @tommyrowan

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