What Makes Philadelphia A "Renaissance City"?

Peak Johnson, for GPA -- Philadelphia is a city of innovators, a city of makers, a city of immense cultural and historic significance. There’s a reason why it was once the capital of the United States.

As a native son of the city, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) Jack Ferguson represents Philadelphia to the world.

“What that truly means is that we’re out asking people to come to meetings, conventions, shows and international travel for groups or individuals,” Ferguson said of his role at PHLCVB. “I always tell people that the melting pot of Philadelphia is the Reading Terminal Market because you get the best of all cultures that we have to offer. Our residents, our workers, our visitors, our convention attendees and our rail system that runs beneath it.”

An entrepreneur, Ferguson’s career has seen him head national and international sales staffs of 2,200 for such companies as Promus Hotel Corp., Doubletree Hotels and Guest Quarters Suite Hotels.

He previously served as senior vice president and partner of LearnSystem, which has the capability to reach hundreds of thousands of hospitality industry professionals to improve job performance and customer service skills via web-based training and evaluation.

“I think there are multiple things that make Philadelphia the ideal renaissance city,” Ferguson said. “When you talk to international travelers, and we do surveys of international travelers, it becomes clear that the city is historically known. Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence. They know what was done here and they know that the country was founded here.”

They also know the story of Rocky Balboa and the iconic steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“It’s iconic and it always shows Philadelphia as it understands its people and supports its winners,” Ferguson said. “Certainly Rocky was a winner, that’s a very positive thing. They know a little bit about the culture, I think in particular they know about the depth of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but they are also now familiar with the Barnes Foundation and the art there. They know us culturally, maybe not as deeply and as richly as we would like them to.”

International visitors also find the architectural richness of the city tied into its history, he added, going all the way back to how and why William Penn designed the city the way he did.

Penn was influenced by the Great Fire of London and had seen portions of the country burn because of a lack of firewalls, something that he did not want to happen in Philadelphia.

“The architectural richness comes from a mix of influences from colonial times, into the Victorian period and then into Art Deco, and now buildings like the Comcast Center,” Ferguson said. “That deep rich culture, those types of things resonate with people. Another thing is that Philadelphia is very scalable. It has the feeling of a large city, is easy to walk around and easy to get to and from. All of those things play very well in this city of ours and to the traveler, especially the global traveler.”

The PHLCVB and organizations throughout Philadelphia communicate with people in order to inspire a visit to the city.

A three-year strategic plan was created recently in conjunction with focus group studies on stakeholders whose boards are related to the travel industry.

“We also studied international companies and organizations that deal in the global and international arena,” Ferguson said. “We spoke to international students that are here being educated in our colleges, universities and secondary schools. What we found in talking to them was what they would say, do and how they would describe Philadelphia to visitors.”

From that emerged the "Philadelphia Narratives," a tool that provides compelling messaging and impressions about the Philadelphia experience. It relates to the historical, cultural side of the city, as well as the street life, sports scene, the culinary expertise and the design influences.

“These stories resonate and we put them together in a publication called ‘Philadelphia Review: A Modern Renaissance City’,” Ferguson said. “As we did that, we made it very easy for other people to tell the story and help us move the process forward, so much so that there are over 81 groups that are currently using the review and PHL messaging in some way, shape or form, especially the ‘PHL Made’ and ‘PHL Makers’ labels, to tell their stories and why the city’s identity resonates with their goods and services."

Photo courtesy of PHLCVB.