Philadelphia Urges Residents to Be Tourists in Their Own City

It's a good reminder of all that can be discovered in one's own backyard.

Philadelphia City Hall

Philippe Gerber / Getty Images

The city of Philadelphia has launched a massive tourism campaign that invites people to come explore its many great attractions. Called "Pack Light. Plan Big. For Philly," the campaign says that the city holds something special for everyone, from its iconic historical sites and museums to sprawling parks, gardens, and award-winning restaurants.

The campaign, which will cost the city $3.5 million in total and is in its initial $2-million stage this spring, is unique for targeting a mostly local audience. People living in suburbs on the outskirts of the city, as well as residents of neighboring U.S. cities and Canadians within driving distance, are all encouraged to come to Philadelphia. 

Ads say things like, "Plan on a tiny drive to a gigantic weekend," and "Plan on two days that don't feel like the other five." Travel news site Skift reports, "It's a close-to-home strategy that the tourism marketing office expects will allow the City of Brotherly Love to cruise past 2019 visitor numbers." 

All of the local advertising might seem something of a waste on people who already know—and hopefully love—the city they live in (or nearby). But the organization Visit Philadelphia does not view it as wasted funds at all:

"The goal? To build awareness of and pride in the campaign among locals, who often host visiting friends and relatives, and to inspire regional residents who commute into the city for work to plan a weekend getaway in Philadelphia to rediscover the wonders of their own backyard."

This strikes me as wonderfully refreshing. We do far too little exploring of our own backyards, assuming that for a trip to be truly relaxing or culturally stimulating—whatever it is that we're looking for—it has to take place far from home, in a new and exotic destination.

But this campaign reminds us that's not the case, that there are plenty of wonders to be discovered close to home if we choose to look at our local surroundings through the eyes of curious tourists. Not only does the simple act of slowing down replenish us as individuals, but it returns our tourist dollars back to our own local economy, which in turn benefits us by creating a more vibrant community in which to live.

Staying close to home is much better for the environment, too. The less distance we travel, the fewer greenhouse gas emissions we generate, and the smaller our carbon footprint. Don't get me wrong—I do love traveling to far-off destinations and take airplanes periodically. But I strive to mix it in with plenty of local exploration in the form of day trips to nearby towns, long hikes along new trails with my family, and weekend camping or canoe trips. I want my kids to know their own regional backyard more than I want them to be able to rattle off a long list of exotic places they've visited.

My province of Ontario is doing something similar with its temporary Staycation Tax Credit for 2022 that reimburses households up to 20% of their accommodation expenses if they vacation within the province this year. The goal is to "encourage Ontario families to explore the province, while helping the tourism and hospitality sectors recover from the financial impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic."

It is a smart strategy, too, that will get people exploring the places that they may have begun to appreciate a bit more during a pandemic that kept us so close to home—but risk forgetting about if we're in a rush to explore the world once again.

The urge to travel the world is a fundamental part of human nature that I'd never try to deny, but it is still important to talk about the value of home and community and local microadventures, like the ones British explorer Alastair Humphreys encourages. Instead of planning for a single grandiose trip of a lifetime, it might be better to incorporate smaller, shorter getaways into our regular life and to let those fleeting breaks replenish us and turn us into happier, more relaxed humans.

So, I can very much get behind this idea of staying local(ish), of packing my kids and husband into the car for a road-trip-based holiday, instead of relying on an airplane. I think it's great that Philadelphia is reminding people to do this through its campaign, as well as Ontario. We all need to be reminded of it occasionally, and hopefully, other cities will create similar campaigns that urge residents to discover all that's right on their doorstep.