Chicago has a new tourism organization charged with attracting more out-of-market visitors to the Windy City, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week.
Called Choose Chicago, the new organization combines and consolidates the efforts of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. Officially launched on July 1, its goal is attracting 50 million annual visitors by 2020 and moving Chicago — which currently ranks 10th — into the top five cities in the nation for overseas visitation, increasing the city's market share among overseas visitors to the United States from 4.3 percent to 6 percent.
According to Emanual, the new organization features a streamlined organizational structure that's expected to save the city nearly $2 million in administrative costs. That money, he said, will be reinvested in national and international marketing campaigns that are expected to generate nearly $4 billion a year in revenues.
"I am committed to making sure Chicago has one strategy to attract visitors, and that we are working together to showcase this most American of American cities to everyone in the world and create jobs and economic opportunity for our residents," Emanuel said. "By focusing our tourism efforts we have saved millions of dollars that we can reinvest into advertising and other attraction efforts."
One of the first orders of business for Choose Chicago was to improve the city's two visitor centers: Both located on Michigan Avenue, the centers have been updated with new interiors; new technology, including digital touch screens; and teams of tourism ambassadors outfitted with iPads to assist tourists.
Additionally, Choose Chicago has opened several new overseas offices — in Brazil, Japan and Belgium — in pursuit of international visitors. These offices bring to eight the total number of worldwide tourism offices promoting Chicago.
Simultaneously, Choose Chicago has launched Chicago's first-ever summer regional advertising campaign promoting travel to Chicago during the summer. The $1.2 million television and digital campaign is targeting six key drive markets, including Cincinnati, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and St. Louis. The 12-week campaign launched in May and will run consecutively through Aug. 19.
Finally, Choose Chicago President and CEO Don Welsh has established a new leadership team for the organization. On it are Chief Marketing Officer Warren Wilkinson, Vice President of Tourism Cathy Domanico and — a new position designed to promote Chicago's culturally diverse neighborhoods — Vice President for Cultural Tourism & Neighborhoods Melissa Hayes Cherry.
So far, the changes have produced spectacular results: According to Choose Chicago, hotel rates in June topped out at over 90 percent, marking "the first time in years that the city has had a month this optimistic." Meanwhile, more than $3.25 billion in new or renewed trade shows and conventions have been booked since last fall, when the city reached a compromise between labor unions and McCormick Place to improve the business climate for conventions and trade shows.
"The creation of a single tourism organization for Chicago is the first step in driving increased visitation to Chicago," Welsh said. "Our goal of 50 million visitors to Chicago by 2020 and increasing Chicago's share of international travel to the United States is an achievable goal and will drive significant economic benefits for the city. Our organization will aggressively work to drive increased visitation to Chicago including meetings and convention business as well as regional, national and international leisure visitation."