Before Milwaukee had even won its bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, city officials were already touting the event as a huge economic boon for the metro area. Time will tell, but considering the experiences of past host cities, it looks like the convention could live up to the hype.
The four-day event is expected to attract 50,000 visitors and generate roughly $200 million in economic impact to the Milwaukee area, largely benefitting its hotel, restaurant and transportation industries.
When Denver hosted the DNC in 2008, its metro area raked in a total of $266.1 million, which is the largest amount of total economic impact the convention has generated to the past five host cities. Of that amount, $153.9 million directly benefitted the city and county proper, according to an impact report released by the city.
The impact of hosting such an event was so significant that it now serves as a time marker for the city leaders like Richard Scharf of VISIT Denver.
“We refer to it as B.C. and A.D.– before convention and after Democrats,” he said.
Scharf, who has served as president of the convention and visitors bureau since 2004, said hosting the convention improved the public’s perception of Denver, which was once seen as a sleepy “cow town” at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
It has also helped the city achieve year-over-year increases in tourism for the past 12 consecutive years, he said.
In the months leading up to the convention, city and business leaders adopted an attitude that Scharf said, “was less about the short-term gain and more about the long term,” which kept the city’s long-term brand and public perception at the forefront of its organizing efforts and decisions.
Those efforts included close collaboration among the government, police and public works departments of Denver and surrounding municipalities, as well as capitalizing on national and international publicity.
Of the estimated 50,000 people that visited Denver for the DNC, 18,000 were members of the media, according to the report.
“Some (media) came early to do tours and instead of writing that off as political reporting, we took them out for breakfast, showed them around and helped them find opportunities to shoot B-roll,” Scharf said. “Destination stories before the convention laid the groundwork for what people would get when they got here.”
Philadelphia had the same idea when it hosted the DNC in 2016, which generated $230.9 million in economic impact.
“We evaluated the media coverage from other conventions and concluded that about 20 percent of national coverage was about the destination,” said Cara Schneider, director of media relations for Visit Philadelphia. “The other 80 percent was about politics.”
Ahead of the convention, the tourism and marketing agency created a database that helped plan and organize media interviews with the right people and coverage of notable destinations.
“Three, two, one months out, there is endless press coverage, so we wanted to make sure people had really good, honest profiles,” Schneider said.
She said the 2020 convention will give Milwaukee the opportunity to find and tell its story in front of a national and international audience. Philly’s story revolves around its strong sense of history as a site of many “firsts” for the country.
Although total economic impact of the convention fell short of projections by tens of millions of dollars, the unprecedented amount of media coverage made its own impact on Philly. With a rise of tourism traffic since the convention, area hotel room rates have increased, Schneider said.
After hosting a national political convention, the selected city is often seen as a promising destination for other large-scale events.
Such was the case for Charlotte, North Carolina, which hosted the 2012 DNC. Since then, said Laura White, director of brand marketing at Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the city has been considered for events for which it wouldn’t have previously been in contention, such as the upcoming Republican National Convention taking place there in 2020.
This time around, “the experience of hosting the DNC (in 2012) will serve us well,” White said.
From a logistical and security standpoint, Charlotte city officials relied heavily on working in conjunction with other stakeholders, including the local business community, Homeland Security and Secret Service personnel, she said.
During the convention, a large portion of the city center was sectioned off by a “security perimeter,” requiring the city to communicate with downtown residents and businesses beforehand and make sure plans were in place, White said. Designated protest areas were also set up.
A high-profile, high-security and high-volume event like the DNC could have the potential to drive locals away from the city during those days — an article from Philadelphia media outlet Billy Penn warns of ride-share price surges, protests and traffic.
Such perceptions circulated the Denver area before the 2008 convention, causing some locals to avoid the downtown area. But Scharf said many of those people now wish they took part in convention festivities.
“The ones that stayed away (from downtown) wished they had been a part of it and the ones that stuck around said they had the time of their lives,” Scharf said.