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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - Despite a struggling economy, the Philadelphia region attracted a record 37 million visitors in 2010, according to a study released this week.
The report credited advertising and marketing efforts with improving Philadelphia's image as a visitor destination over the last decade and a half.
Fifteen years ago, "the image of Philadelphia and its countryside was weak -- great for a day trip to take in a few historical monuments and chomp on a cheese steak, but lacking excitement, good hotels and restaurants, and variety of things to see and do," the report said.
"For many people, it wasn't worthy of an overnight stay -- too much 'Rocky' and not enough romance for upscale vacationers in the Northeast," it said.
The statue of Rocky, the fictional boxer played by actor Sylvester Stallone in films set in Philadelphia, is a city landmark, along with such historical sites as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
Now an aggressive marketing push is putting up to $12 million each year toward advertising campaigns such as the current "With Love, Philadelphia XOX0," which also uses social media tools including Facebook.
The effort is apparently working, with Philadelphia totaling 37.4 million visits in 2010, up from 36 million in 2009.
That marked an increase of 10 million so-called leisure visitors compared to 1997, when the Greater Philadelphia Marketing Corp. started surveying local tourism.
To both cultivate and meet the demand, more than 20 new hotels have opened in the region since 1997.
The study was conducted by consultant Longwoods International, based in Toronto.
Reporting by Dave Warner; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton