The Serious Power of the Fun Travel Industry

Last week I attended the “Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism.” I won’t get into the specifics of travel industry talk, but I thought I’d share some aspects that might be of interest to those of us who travel, or live in places where travelers come. And maybe some thoughts on changes to come in Chicago.

Roger J. Dow, President & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, spoke about how government views our industry as “frivolous” in comparison to manufacturing, chemical, and engineering industries. A video from the early ’90s called travel and tourism an “invisible industry” because it doesn’t have the tangible product of other industries. Instead, it’s service-based, with people employed by hotels, transportation, museums, theaters and restaurants.

The travel industry may seem like small potatoes, but it’s a gigantic supporter of our national economy, and especially in cities like Chicago where millions of visitors come each year. Travelers spend about $27 billion dollars per year in Illinois, for example. No small potatoes. I completely understand why people have the idea of this as “invisible” though. When I wrote an article about the job market for the San Francisco Bay Guardian back in 2001 (so long ago no link available), I was shocked to discover that travel and tourism was the number one driver of the San Francisco economy. The dot-com was all everyone was talking about, but when I consulted with an expert in the Department of Employment Development he explained how all the retail services of the city – from shops to restaurants to dry cleaners – were dependent on visitors.

So yes, I do have a tour business and it seems like it’s isolated on an island of the travel industry. But anyone in the city who works in services, in just about any neighborhood, depends on more than nearby residents to come enjoy what they have to offer. If someone in Palatine gets inspired to come into the city when they read about my Chicago tour company in their local newspaper, they will come to the city and go out to eat and maybe some shopping, too. It’s all connected.

Mayor Daley certainly knew about the importance of this industry. He was ahead of the game in the ’90s when he consulted with University of Chicago sociologist Terry Clark regarding the news ways that people were interacting in cities – both visitors and residents. Clark was studying the rise of cultural activities, which naturally bring people to the city. Chicago’s incredible museums, architecture, theater, and *cultural tours* (hint-hint) attract visitors (as well as residents) to the city, as well as shopping, activities, and restaurants.

So now that I’ve clearly identified the industry, I’ve got a question: What’s going to happen with the new administration in Chicago? A few weeks ago I had the unexpected chance to ask Rahm Emanuel, then candidate for mayor, what plans he had for promoting tourism in the city. His response was, “What do you mean? There are tourists everywhere.” But tourism has been declining, and just because it seems like there are plenty of visitors (um, what about 20% hotel occupancy rates in winter?) doesn’t mean we can’t do more to promote travel to Chicago. Essentially, he did not have an answer to the question. Does he see this as an “invisible industry,” too?

After having been a little discouraged by that response though, it was more than inspiring to be around fellow travel industry professionals at this conference, and hear leaders in our community who very much know this is not invisible!

–Amanda Scotese, Founder of Chicago Detours

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

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