With a possible COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, there’s more reason to be optimistic when it comes to business and meeting travel these days, Pittsburgh civic leaders say.
Jerad Bachar, CEO and president of VisitPittsburgh, said the region needs to be ready to convey what hotels, restaurants and museums are doing to keep people safe.
“It’s not a matter of if they travel, it’s a matter of when they travel,” he said. “And when they do, when they’re getting ready to make those decisions, they need to have confidence in the protocols that have been put in place.”
That’s why the travel and tourism nonprofit has launched the Pittsburgh Global Health & Safety (PGH) Commitment, a pledge to event organizers that everyone involved in the hospitality community is “dedicated to making your next trip a memorable and safe experience,” as explained on VisitPittsburgh’s website.
With more than 700 partners across the region, VisitPittsburgh is using the effort to gather health and safety measures from businesses and organizations, as well as advisories and regulations from the various levels of government—and then communicate them to travelers.
Among those partners is Pittsburgh International Airport, which launched its Safe Travels initiative in the spring and has made passenger health and safety its primary focus.
“A big part of any health and safety initiative for any city around the world is, how comfortable do travelers actually feel when traveling?” Bachar said.
The Carnegie Science Center is glad to be among the partners making the pledge, said Connie George, senior director of marketing and community affairs.
“They’re setting standards on behalf of the entire tourism community,” George said. “It all supports the fact that Pittsburgh is committed to keeping visitors safe when they come here.”
In 2018, the travel economy contributed $6.4 billion to Allegheny County, supporting more than 43,000 jobs and contributing more than $400 million in state and local tax revenue.
This year, the region has lost about 55% of that, or about $3.6 billion, along with more than 24,500 jobs, according to state data. The county may not see those pre-COVID tourism numbers again for at least a three-year recovery period, Bachar said.
“Our job at VisitPittsburgh is to shorten that recovery timeline as much as possible and rebuild that traveler spend across the county,” he said.
The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which hosts conferences and events, is part of the effort as a premiere partner of VisitPittsburgh.
“It’s the utmost importance to present a safe facility for any organization looking to bring conventions into Pittsburgh,” said Kelli Donahoe, director of sales and marketing.
Managed by ASM Global, the convention center is “fully immersed” in the program it calls VenueShield, Donahue said. Specifics of the program are explained in a 47-page document online.
Officials from the two entities meet regularly, along with Downtown hotel operators, to discuss all the efforts that have been put in place, Donahoe said.
“We’re really probably closer than we ever have been, just because of the amount of communications that we have making sure that we are, as a package—as Pittsburgh—are being responsible, ready to receive customers, make them feel safe and make them want to come back,” she said.
The PGH Commitment shows the high level of cooperation among all the people, businesses and organizations that are proud of the region and want to welcome others to it, Bachar said.
“We all know that we have to work together as a community so that travelers, when they come into the city or into the region … they have to know this process is in place from start to finish,” he said. “The level of partnership we’ve seen throughout the community is extraordinary.”