By JANET WHITE
The COVID-19 crisis has brought tourism to a standstill around the world, and Philadelphia’s tourism economy has already lost $1 billion because of coronavirus.
While city tourism officials are meeting regularly to discuss how a recovery will take place, it’s the fresh thinking of outsiders that could provide the solution — not a return to the status quo, but an entire redesign of Philadelphia tourism.
“The Future of Philadelphia Tourism” was the topic of a September 2019 meeting, whose attendees included local tourism officials, City councilman Mark Squilla, animal advocates and tourism and marketing researcher Dr. Clare Weeden from the University of Brighton, UK. The discussion focused on “Responsible Tourism,” a growing industry trend which emphasizes that a destination’s people, economy and environment are affected by the “footprint” left by tourists and tourism organizations.
A matter of particular concern was Philadelphia’s horse-drawn carriages, a controversial feature of Philadelphia’s tourism, which has become a liability in recent years.
In her analysis of Philadelphia tourism, Weeden noted that a key in the marketing of responsible tourism is differentiation, and Philadelphia has the opportunity to set the standard in market differentiation by promoting a special concern for environmental and animal welfare issues. “Resident and tourist awareness of animal welfare means that one day very soon, carriage horses’ existence as part of a commercialized tourism product will become unacceptable for most people,” she said.
Continuing the focus on this issue, a group of doctoral students from the Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) strategic leadership and complex systems leadership programs took on the project of studying horse-drawn carriages in Philadelphia. They presented the conclusion of their case study earlier this month: As awareness of the problems associated with horse-drawn carriages increases, demand for them will decrease, creating an unprofitable and unsustainable business.
Some of those problems, were described by Dr. Holly Cheever, leadership council member of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), in a letter to Squilla expressing support for a legislative ban on horse-drawn carriages in Philadelphia. The problems Cheever outlined include:
- respiratory impairment resulting from the horses constantly working nose-to-tailpipe;
- lameness due to the horses’ excessive pounding on paved city surfaces;
- heat prostration during extreme temperatures;
- spooking when the horse is startled by a threatening stimulus, often leading to vehicular accidents.
The TJU study emphasized market trends, drawing attention to the animal welfare concerns of Millennials — the generation that travels the most and is most likely to spend more money on vacations than any other age group.
Eighty-six percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are willing to spend more on their travel if it means the experiences are completely ethical. Tour companies are jumping to respond to the demand by developing animal-friendly policies. TripAdvisor, for example, amended their 2016 policy to “no longer book attractions where animals were forced into unnatural situations for entertainment purposes.”
As bans on horse-drawn carriages continue to be enacted in cities around the world, electric horseless carriages (e-carriages) are increasingly taking their place. Identical in appearance to 18th century horse carriages, e-carriages are battery-powered, equipped with GPS and USB ports, and offer riders both an historical experience and a cruelty-free activity. E-carriages are in perfect alignment with the principles of responsible tourism, and offer a win-win solution, creating no job losses, only increased opportunities for businesses and tourists alike.
Post-COVID crisis, Philadelphia will be competing with other tourism destinations for people’s time and money, so we’ll need to appeal especially to the younger travelers driving the market. It will take some time to re-open Philadelphia for tourism, but now is the time for a total redesign of Philly’s tourism brand and offerings, in keeping with what our city is all about — revolutionary ideas, innovation and bold actions.
Let’s get the conversation going between city officials and forward-thinking outsiders who can provide the fresh approach needed to create a new American revolution.
Janet White is a resident of Northeast Philadelphia who runs a group called Carriage Horse Freedom. She was a spirited campaigner in the ban on horse drawn carriages in Philly.
• “Hold your horses: Can Old Timey e-carriages replace old city buggies?”, WHYY.org, 11 Sep. 2019
• “Local activist wins award for spearheading Chicago horse-drawn carriage ban”, Tuesday’s Horse, April 2020 (goes into effect 1 Jan. 2021)
Featured Image: By bridgetawilcox from Pixabay.