Pittsburgh skylineBookended by the historic cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Keystone State benefits from its favorable location for national and international meetings, conventions and trade shows. In addition to the many historical attractions in the two major cities and throughout the state, there’s a palpable energy emanating from the hospitality sectors in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh right now. Hotel offerings are quickly morphing to meet the needs and desires of today’s business-event attendees, while the entertainment, artistic and culinary offerings are so robust that both cities have garnered national accolades. For instance, Philadelphia, founded in 1682, was rated America’s top city for culture in 2015 by Travel & Leisure, and its roster of world-class museums played a large role in earning that recognition. What’s more, Zagat ranked Pittsburgh, founded in 1758, the No. 1 food city in America for 2015, not only because of the many new traditional restaurants in town, but also due to the nearly 20 local breweries that have popped up in the past several years. One other element that makes the entire state a bit more fun is the handful of upscale casinos in and around the major cities and the Pocono Mountains region. Philadelphia has Valley Forge Casino Resort nearby; Pittsburgh has Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort close by; and the Poconos have Mohegan Sun Pocono and Mount Airy Casino for folks who enjoy not just gaming, but also fine restaurants and live entertainment. In short, Pennsylvania is on a roll…or as the locals say, on a hoagie.
Loews Philadelphia HotelSince new, employee-friendly labor rules were instituted at Pennsylvania Convention Center in May 2014, the city has had great success in booking groups into the facility. “We have seen renewed interest from meeting planners who were previously wary of what they would experience in Philadelphia, and so we’re thrilled that not only are groups returning; we’re also attracting new groups,” says Julie Coker Graham, president and CEO of Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. In 2016, the bureau landed more than 300 meetings and conventions that will translate into 600,000 room nights in hotels and generate $730 million in economic impact for Philadelphia. And one of those events was seriously high-profile: the 2016 Democratic National Convention, July 25–28 at Wells Fargo Center. Pennsylvania Convention Center is set in a prime downtown location to help maximize the overall meeting or event experience for attendees. Aside from its 82 meeting rooms and 679,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, the convention center has a fascinating historic element: It incorporates the former Reading Terminal, the only remaining Victorian-era train shed in the United States, into its meeting and event spaces. For planners, this makes for a memorable event backdrop at no additional cost. Other standout features include a 110-foot-high glass wall erected in 2011 featuring lighting that can be customized for branding, and nearly 125 pieces of artwork throughout the facility.
Philadelphia Marriott DowntownThe neighborhood around Pennsylvania Convention Center is also a significant asset for meetings and events. In addition to 1,408-room Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, an elegant property that is connected to the center, and 581-room Loews Philadelphia Hotel, housed in the United States’ first skyscraper, there are more than 8,000 other hotel rooms within walking distance of the facility.
Three Key Attractions
The Logan, PhiladelphiaLess than 1 mile east of the convention center lie Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell and National Constitution Center—attractions that helped Philly become the first UNESCO World Heritage City in the United States. And 1 mile west of the center is the bustling Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, home to a plethora of noted restaurants. According to the Philadelphia CVB, 12 hotels with a total of 2,500 guest rooms will be opening across the city in the near future, from University City to Center City business district, to Rittenhouse Square and along Avenue of the Arts, the city’s main theater and performance district. These additional rooms will allow the city to book larger and simultaneous conventions. One of the most recent developments is the opening of The Logan hotel, part of Hilton’s Curio collection. Set in the former Four Seasons building in the Center City District, the property has 391 guest rooms and suites, plus 18,600 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space. Philadelphia’s museums are world-renowned, and eager to host groups for receptions. Less than 2 miles from Center City is Philadelphia Museum of Art, with 227,000 pieces representing European and American painting, print, drawing and decorative art. The museum offers indoor areas for group receptions, as well as its famous Rocky steps (shown in the movie) and adjacent outdoor plaza with skyline views. Even closer to Center City is Barnes Foundation, with its acclaimed collection of Matisse, Picasso and van Gogh works. And just across the Schuylkill River is University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The 120-year-old museum, located on campus, boasts nearly 1 million artifacts from ancient societies and cultures from around the world. Less than 4 miles south of Center City is Xfinity Live, a dining and entertainment district. The centerpiece of the arena complex, where Philadelphia’s pro sports teams play, the district has five venues: Broad Street Bullies Pub, PBR Bar & Grill, Victory Beer Hall, NBC Sports Arena and 1100 Social. The outdoor space between these venues is known as Xfinity On Demand Theater, with a music stage and a 24-foot-wide Sony LED video board.
The Dynamic Northern Liberties
The Fillmore PhiladelphiaPerhaps the most dynamic of the 14 neighborhoods in the city is Northern Liberties, according to Sarah Norris, director of sales for Access Philadelphia, a destination management company. “Any planner who wants to explore beyond the business district and see our diversity would love this area,” she says. Aside from many restaurants and galleries, the neighborhood has two new special-event venues. The Fillmore Philadelphia is a two-level music hall, with crystal chandeliers set above an industrial-chic interior and state-of-the-art bars. Norris held a 500-person corporate event there in July, but says the facility could hold nearly double that number. What’s more, the rental price includes audiovisual staff and stagehand labor. Across the street from the Fillmore Philadelphia is Punch Line Philly, a comedy club and event venue with outdoor space. This brand-new club can hold about 400 people.
Valley Forge Casino Resort, King of PrussiaFor meeting groups that want an evening of gaming action—or for groups that want to meet near Philadelphia in order to enjoy the city’s attractions outside of business hours—there’s Valley Forge Casino Resort. Just 20 miles northwest of the city and near Washington’s Headquarters within Valley Forge National Historic Park, the facility offers 160 guest rooms in its own tower, and planners can book 485-room Radisson Hotel Valley Forge next door. In addition to 54,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, the resort’s convention center has four divisible ballrooms ranging from 3,000 to 8,865 sq. ft., plus several dedicated breakout rooms and The Venue, a multilevel space that can accommodate 250 guests. The resort has 600 slot machines and 50 live-game tables, plus three traditional restaurants (steakhouse, Italian and American grill), three casual eateries and a traditional tavern.
Hotel Monaco PittsburghThe transformation of this western Pennsylvania city into a hub for medicine, health care, higher education and technology incubation has been impressive. And one of the residual effects of this progress is a rapidly growing hospitality segment—not just hotels, but also restaurants, entertainment venues and special-event facilities. “We are undergoing a hotel boom,” says Kristin Wenger, communications manager for Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau. But the developments are not of the big-box variety; rather, smaller and boutique properties are opening to create a different personality in the city. The 225-room Embassy Suites by Hilton Pittsburgh Downtown opened earlier this year, with a second-floor ballroom and conference wing as well as a 25th-floor “sky lobby” where the front desk, Elevation restaurant and Ollie’s Gastropub are located. Nine-story, 248-room Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, a Kimpton property, also opened this year with 11,300 sq. ft. of event space, including a 1,067-square-foot room on the top floor that’s adjacent to an outdoor Biergarten, with dramatic city views. Other openings include 150-room Homewood Suites by Hilton Pittsburgh Downtown and 197-room Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Downtown in Market Square.
Omni William Penn Hotel, PittsburghThese small-property developments give planners of multihotel meetings, and especially citywide events, new options for building room blocks to offer attendees a variety of experiences from which to choose. The Embassy Suites and Hotel Monaco are within one block of the 597-room Omni William Penn Hotel, with 52,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, PittsburghFor events that would use David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Wenger notes that there are still a few openings in the city’s 2017 convention-center calendar that sizable groups can fill at good rates. Major nearby hotels include 616-room The Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh, with 42,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a skywalk connection to the center; 712-room Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, with 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; and 402-room Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, with 27,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Many large groups use Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, a 460-acre preserve located 10 miles from downtown, for receptions and special events from May to October. The preserve offers miles of walking paths meandering through a variety of flora, along with tent-ready open areas and a large amphitheater. The city’s baseball stadium, PNC Park, and football stadium, Heinz Field, are on the riverfront and can host groups for scheduled games or for off-day private events. Smaller groups can take advantage of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Museum of Art, Frick Art & Historical Center, The Andy Warhol Museum and Fort Pitt Museum, which lies inside Point State Park at the confluence of the three rivers.
Inn at Pocono ManorThe Pocono Mountains region occupies the eastern part of the state. Despite being less than 90 minutes from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), this area has abundant woodlands and outdoor activities. Inn at Pocono Manor, built in 1902, has 240 guest rooms and a conference center with more than 30,000 sq. ft. of space. Less than 1 mile away is the newest group-oriented property in the Poconos, Kalahari Resort and Convention Center, with 457 guest rooms and 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. For recreation, it offers a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park, a 2-acre outdoor water park and a 30,000-square-foot indoor theme park/arcade. Like Pocono Manor, Skytop Lodge is a historic property with a modern conference center. Set on 5,500 acres, the 457-room property has 20,000 sq. ft. of space across 17 meeting rooms, plus golf, tennis and even geocaching as a team-building exercise. For evening entertainment, Mount Airy Casino Resort is less than 15 minutes away from all three of these resorts. There’s another sizable casino in this region, and it has a full-service hotel and meeting facility. The 238-room Mohegan Sun Pocono offers a 20,000-square-foot conference facility, in addition to a half-dozen restaurants, an outdoor terrace lounge with fire pits, and two venues regularly featuring comedy and live music. Besides the 2,300 slot machines and 91 table games that provide after-hours entertainment, there’s a harness-racing track.
Central Meetings HubIn the central part of the state, Hershey is the biggest name in the meetings game. Hershey Lodge, The Hotel Hershey, Hershey Country Club and Hershey Park are set 15 miles east of Harrisburg, the state capital, and 95 miles west of Philadelphia. Hershey Lodge offers 665 guest rooms as well as the state’s largest resort meeting facility: a 100,000-square-foot convention center with 35 meeting rooms. For smaller groups, The Hotel Hershey is a historic venue with 276 guest rooms and 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 5,490-square-foot ballroom. Additional meeting, reception and banquet space is available at Hershey Country Club—including the four-season 3,600-square-foot Grand Picard Pavilion—while the three golf courses on property are frequently used by meeting groups for a half-day of leisure. The biggest leisure activity at Hershey, though, is the theme park. The 110-acre layout has 70 rides and attractions, plus the ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park. Adjacent to the park is Hershey’s Chocolate World, a visitors center with shops, restaurants and a chocolate-factory-themed tour ride. Groups receive 45 percent off park admission and can have picnics inside the park. Another popular meetings property is 216-room Omni Bedford Springs Resort. Just two hours from Washington, DC, the property is a National Historic Landmark set on 2,200 acres. Along with its 20,000-square-foot conference center, there’s a steakhouse, spa and golf course.
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, FarmingtonIn the western part of the state, the major meetings resort is Nemacolin Woodlands. Set 90 minutes south of Pittsburgh near the West Virginia border, the property offers a 124-room hotel, a 97-room lodge and a 42-room luxury inn to go along with its 32,000 square-foot conference facility, casino, five restaurants, two golf courses, spa/holistic wellness center and off-road driving experiences.
Rob Carey is a business journalist and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight, a content marketing firm for the group-business market.