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Biden presidency will draw Delaware into spotlight

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Tens of millions of Americans reportedly tuned in to watch Joe Biden accept the presidency in a Wilmington speech capped with fireworks and a drone show over Frawley Stadium on Nov. 7. | DBT PHOTO BY JOE DEL TUFO

WILMINGTON – With TV cameras perched throughout the city’s downtown and memories of a firework-capped acceptance speech from President-elect Joe Biden near the bank of the Christina River still fresh, it’s fair to say that Delaware’s moment in the spotlight has arrived.

Less than a year ago, it would be hard to imagine the First State playing such a prominent role in Biden’s presidential campaign. It’s been his home for nearly his entire life, but campaign events in typical years are spent in battleground states and mega-media markets like nearby Philadelphia.

The restraints necessary amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, has ensured that the words “Wilmington” or “Delaware” are a near daily presence on TV network chyrons and in national newspaper coverage. According to Google Trends, searches for “Delaware tourism” reached a four-year high in late July while searches for “Chase Center on the Riverfront,” the home to Biden’s acceptance speech, increased by more than 5,000% over last year around Election Day.

Carolyn White Bartoo, a senior marketing and public relations instructor at the University of Delaware and a former state tourism director, said the value of the “earned media,” or exposure not coming from paid advertising, was not immediately known, but likely worth millions.

Considering that 13.5 million people watched CNN, just one of a half dozen or more channels to carry Biden’s presidential acceptance speech on Nov. 7, according to Nielsen ratings, the overall exposure was likely enormous.

“It’s bringing an awareness to everyone in the world about the state of Delaware,” said Bartoo, noting that she had contacts in London asking about Biden’s election. “We’re still a tiny state, we still don’t have a lot of muscle, but we have Joe Biden.”

Gov. John Carney agreed and said that “it’s a real opportunity for our state to get a lot of attention with the eyes of the world on Wilmington.”

“We’ll get to puff out our chest a little bit and be proud that the president of the United States calls Delaware his home,” he added.

Sarah Willoughby, executive director of the Greater Wilmington Conventions and Visitors Bureau, said that her office is preparing a press release to go out to about 500 out-of-state journalists about an itinerary of Joe Biden-connected places or businesses to visit, including well-known stops like Capriotti’s, The Charcoal Pit, Janssen’s Market, and more. She has also been talking with a local tour operator who ran such a fan tour before the election and may continue into 2021.

Willoughby said that she’s also ordered six life-sized cutouts of the president-elect and is figuring out the best way to use them for visitor photo-ops. That approach also doubles for social media marketing as visitors share their trip on popular mediums like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and more.

“There’s a lot of potential,” she said, but noted that the restriction imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for her office to truly maximize the exposure’s benefit.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made marketing Biden’s big moment much more difficult than a typical year. New Castle County hotels have seen a bump in revenue and bookings, particularly through the August Democratic National Convention speeches at the Chase Center, when revenue per available room reached more than $52. While the highest rate since February, even that was 30% below 2019’s August average.

Bill Sullivan, treasurer of the Delaware Hotel and Lodging Association and general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in Newark, said that Riverfront hotels picked up at least 8,000 room nights between the DNC and Election Week events.

“That’s spectacular because we’ve all been struggling,” he said.

Sullivan is hopeful that interest in Biden’s background won’t wane after the coronavirus subsides, and he points to continuing media coverage to keeping Delaware center stage.

“Food and Wine magazine did a great piece about where Biden dines, and that’s the kind of coverage you’re going to get. Unfortunately, it’s just bad timing and you just don’t have the ability to mobilize right now,” he said.

For Megan McGlinchey, executive director of the Riverfront Development Corp., owner of the Chase Center, the Biden impact has “put their name on the map.” She said that the convention center has been fielding some calls from planners interested in holding late 2021 or early 2022 meetings and events.

Echoing her colleagues, McGlinchey said that taking full advantage of the spotlight has been difficult, but she expects that as restrictions ease that the Chase Center staff will begin pushing the venue for bigger events.

“I think people are still, at this point, a little hesitant to move forward with events but we’re definitely seeing the interest there,” she said. “I think once things start to get back to normal we’ll be able to truly market ourselves and be able to capitalize a little bit on that name recognition that we have now.”

While the president-elect’s presence will surely make some kind of tourism mark in the future, the bigger question is whether it will impact any economic development decisions in the First State. Unlike President Donald Trump, whose hotels and resorts often became meeting points for lobbyists seeking a way into the administration, Biden doesn’t have a company or business for them to patronize, but his close ties to Wilmington may be an influencing factor.

Kurt Foreman, president and CEO of the state’s economic development agency, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, said he wasn’t sure if Biden’s connection would play a part in companies’ decisions to locate in the First State.

“If a company is not looking to be in the Mid-Atlantic, or that D.C.-to-New York corridor, I’m not sure [Biden’s election] changes that,” he said. “All things being equal, it may be a factor. My gut tells me it might be more of a factor in international situations than domestic situations, but I don’t have any data to prove that yet.”

If nothing else, Foreman said that Biden’s national exposure is an “ideal platform to help us share the story of Delaware to audiences.” He noted that Delaware’s leading position as a place of incorporation and its strong business courts coupled with Biden’s connection may be persuasive.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt us to be on the lips of so many people,” he added.

By Jacob Owens

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