Whether you work in the hospitality and travel industry or not, the changes going on with the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (aka Choose Chicago) will affect you if you live in Chicago. Last week this organization, which promotes Chicago as a visitor destination, held its annual meeting at the Cadillac Palace Theater. Big changes were announced, and these changes will hopefully have major impact on the tourism industry, a great generator of the local economy and contributor to tax revenue.
Choose Chicago Promotes Tourism
Chicago’s tourism industry is behind most major U.S. cities in terms of number of visitors and visitor spending. We have minimally promoted the city as a travel destination, both domestically and internationally, and we are ranked 10th for international visitor destinations in the U.S. despite being the 3rd biggest city in America. Chicago has needed a promotional push, and what the CCTB, aka “Choose Chicago,” is making this happen.
However we do not fall short at making a big impression on visitors. I’m sure I’m not the only Chicagoan who has this experience when talking with people from the coasts. You get one of two reactions when you say you’re from Chicago: 1. An enthusiastic response of what an incredible city or 2. Glazed look befalls their face. I’m quite sure that No. 2 here comes from people knowing just about nothing about Chicago. Travelers, both in the U.S. and worldwide, need to be more familiar with our incredible attractions, architecture, art, beaches, bike paths, theater, parks, restaurants, local culture, and of course creative tour companies. And these travelers need this familiarity not just for our benefit either! I’m quite sure that many a traveler would greatly appreciate discovering that Chicago will be the perfect destination for their next trip.
New Plans from Choose Chicago
The meeting outlined some of the new initiatives and strategies: 1. Make McCormick Place financially alluring to conventions via legislative reforms 2. Increase visitation from regional markets 3. Generate awareness nationally 4. Grow international visitation.
At the CCTB meeting, speakers included President and CEO Don Welsh, Chairman of the Board Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and representatives of the CCTB. Senior VP, Marketing and Communications updated us on the new branding and SEO-enhanced website. A digital advertising campaign this past winter targeted Midwest markets. More videos are under production for international markets. New videos showcase highlights of Chicago attractions, from nightlife to museums.
The Mayor spoke of the goals he has set for increasing Chicago tourism, which was great to hear after he disregarded my question to him about promoting Chicago tourism last spring.
Adding Sports and Culture to Our Sales Pitch
I was surprised to hear about the new Chicago Sports Commission. Pretty much all I know of sports is the “curse of the Billy Goat,” which we talk about on our Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour, but I do know that baseball, football, hockey, etc, etc are key aspects of Chicago culture. They will work to promote international, national, and collegiate events in Chicago. Think of how many people flood into the city for marathons, for example.
There was no mention of the merger with the tourism department of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, other than the elusive comment: “We’ve been splintered and now we have one voice.” I’m pretty sure that the Explore Chicago website is going to get pulled, and everything centered on the Choose Chicago site.
Music added to the morning meeting. CCTB has come up with a branded song for “Choose Chicago.” What a challenge that must be! The song sounded like a cross between Backstreet Boys and Taylor Swift, or in other words, not my thing. But how do you make a song that appeals to so many different tastes?
The stage received a surprise visit from a blues guitarist and spoken word poet Kevin Coval. With the theme of “Choose Chicago,” the poem’s finest lines in my opinion are “I always tell people not to come to Chicago in the summer unless you want to stay here forever.”
Chairman of the CCTB Board Bruce Rauner encouraged feedback from us on all these new initiatives. I am very excited that all of these changes are happening; upper level management will likely be particularly open to considering creative ideas. I plan to share some of my ideas for attracting new visitors in a blog post soon.
–Amanda Scotese, Executive Director