Taylor Swift in a glittering suit jacket, standing defiantly in an office-style set on stage, with the mic to her mouth, surrounded by a handful of backup singers also dressed in suits.
Taylor Swift performs during "The Eras Tour" in May 2023. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

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The second weekend in May was a gold rush when it came to hotel bookings in Philadelphia.

Taylor Swift’s sold-out Eras Tour brought three massive waves of glitter- and cowboy boot-clad fans to Lincoln Financial Field — on the same weekend as many of Penn’s commencement ceremonies.

The combination helped fuel a mini hospitality boom: 95% of Center City’s 14,112 hotel rooms were booked up on Friday and Saturday nights. That’s according to stats sourced from market data company STR and provided by Visit Philadelphia.

And those bookings came at a premium: The average nightly cost to stay, stay, stay in one of those rooms was $447.

It was the city’s most impressive hotel performance seen since the pandemic started, according to Alethia Calbeck, chief communications officer at Visit Philly. The last time occupancy was that high during the month of May was Memorial Day weekend in 2019.

Center City hotels have hit 90% or higher 13 times since March 2020, Calbeck said, and nine of those instances have been when the city was hosting conventions.

“It certainly was a stellar weekend, and really generated a ton of economic activity for the city of Philadelphia,” Calbeck told Billy Penn.

Those stats only account for hotels STR designates as located within Center City, which she said accounts for the vast majority of the city’s hotels and also includes part of West Philly. Down in the Navy Yard, the Courtyard by Marriott was reportedly fully booked too.

A destination for Swifties from far and wide

Swift’s run was the first time the Linc, which opened in 2003, has ever hosted an act three nights in a row, according to Eagles spokesperson Alli Waddington. Around 68,000 people attended each show — and that’s not counting the additional thousands who showed up outside the venue to listen and sing along.

Swift, who grew up in Berks County and performed (briefly) at the South Philly sports complex for the first time as a preteen, called the series of performances her “hometown shows” — and offered fans a long-awaited confirmation that the “Eagles t-shirt” she sings about in her 2020 song “gold rush” is indeed one repping Philly’s football team, not the band.

Despite it being Swift’s homecoming, she performed to a crowd that had flocked to Philly from all over. 

Billy Penn visited the stadium complex ahead of the May 12 show and met Swifities from Virginia, DC, Baltimore, Cleveland, New York, the Dominican Republic, New Jersey, Delaware, and all over Pennsylvania.

The dates at the Linc were the only East Coast concerts on Swift’s schedule south of New York City and north of Atlanta, and getting tickets for any show at all proved challenging for fans amid extremely high demand and Ticketmaster glitches.

“We really appreciate the preference that Taylor Swift showed by having three back-to-back shows here,” said Calbeck, of Visit Philly. “Pennsylvania is her home state, and we were really excited to welcome her.”

A ‘perfect storm’ brought a surge of economic stimulation

The overlap between the Swift concerts, Penn graduation, and Mother’s Day created a “perfect storm of opportunity” for the local tourism industry, Calbeck said.

A high “average daily rate,” or ADR, is a sign that hotel rooms are particularly in demand, Calbeck explained.

Past Penn grad weekends have been high, but not like this year. In 2022, the average occupancy rate for the weekend before Penn’s Monday commencement was 72% and the ADR was $330. 

For 2019 graduation, the last one before the COVID pandemic, the weekend’s ADR was $306 and average occupancy was at 94% — but hotel room supply was 14% less than what it is now, Calbeck said, and Joe Biden announced his presidential bid in Philly that same weekend.

This year’s Penn graduation weekend, aka Taylor Swift weekend, hit 95% hotel occupancy, with an ADR of $447 for Friday and Saturday night. Room rates were even higher on Saturday night alone, with an ADR of $467.

The only time ADRs in Center City were higher than May 13 of this year was four nights during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and hotel room supply has increased by 26% since then, per Visit Philly.

Part of what all those hotel bookings meant: an influx of direct income for the city and state. 

Hotel room bookings in Philadelphia are taxed at 15.5%, with some of that going to the commonwealth and some going to the city. The city’s share of taxes helps fund tourism promotion efforts through orgs like Visit Philly and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Food and transportation also got a boost

The influx of out-of-towners also meant spillover effects into the rest of the city’s economy, like restaurants, public transit, and rideshares.

A few local businesses leaned into Swift’s shows as a business opportunity, offering things like themed cocktails or discounts on vinyl to draw fans.

Swift herself apparently patronized some local businesses too. According to social media reports, her team ordered nearly $1,200 in cheesesteaks from Steak ’Em Up (50 wit, 50 witout) and 75 pizzas from Avenue Steaks and Pizza after two of her shows. The Beer Peddlers said on Facebook they provided the pop star’s crew with local brews backstage and in dressing rooms.

SEPTA saw a boost in ridership, which necessitated some extra regional rail service and extra staffing to direct big crowds of people. The number of riders who opted to take the Broad Street Line from NRG Station after the shows instead of hopping in a getaway car was to the tune of 27,000, Governing reported.

Getting a sense of the total dollar amount that might’ve flowed into various city sectors that weekend is difficult without conducting a full economic impact study, according to Calbeck. That kind of study is a more involved process that’s generally reserved for events like the DNC.

But the Swift weekend success is evidence the city’s tourism sector is back from the “pandemic lull,” Calbeck said. Tourism officials are prepping for Philadelphia to be a prime summer weekend destination — especially given its location just two hours away from multiple significant population centers, by car or by train.

Said Calbeck: “We’re really excited to see what the summer will bring for the industry and for the City of Philadelphia.”

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Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...