Combatting winter tourism lull

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

As winter sets in, Chicago will amp up its tourism efforts to encourage travelers to visit the city during cold weather months.

The plan will expand on the city’s summer tourism initiatives, which included TV spots and digital advertising. The summer initiative generated $207 million in revenue, according to a Nov. 14 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

Emanuel and, the city’s official tourism website, will launch a winter tourism campaign effective in January.

“Chicago’s regional campaigns deliver significant revenues, especially during need periods,” said Meghan Risch, Choose Chicago’s vice president of communications, in an email. “Increased leisure visitation to Chicago delivers immediate value for the city’s overall economic development efforts, as well as our hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail and cultural attractions. The overwhelming positive response to this effort clearly shows that a well-developed and flawlessly executed campaign drives increased visitor spending and the new tax revenues.”

The details have yet to be finalized, but such a campaign is likely to benefit the city during cold months, according to Dan Hibbler, an associate professor in DePaul University’s School for New Learning.

“Regionally, [tourism] dies down after the holidays, especially from January to February,” Hibbler said, adding that people are more likely to stay home during the winter.

If the winter campaign is successful, the result could be more jobs and a surplus in tax revenue, according to the mayoral press release, which notes that Chicago’s tourism industry is responsible for 128,000 jobs, $725 million in tax revenue and $12 billion in direct spending.

A regional winter tourism campaign would stimulate tourism for  many winter-related attractions, said Sondra Katzen, a spokeswoman for the Brookfield Zoo.

“We offer free days this time of year to try to encourage people to come out in the wintertime and see the zoo in a different way,” Katzen said. “A lot of people don’t know that [we’re] open no matter what the weather is.”

Other areas in the region have winter attractions that continue to draw crowds.

According to Dan Cunningham, director of tourism in East Peoria, local attractions are successfully drawing tourists. He said the East Peoria Festival of Lights has been attracting visitors since 1984 and is a destination for more than 600 tour buses each winter.

Regardless of what efforts are made to encourage tourism, Hibbler said he believes that a strong economy will prevail this winter.

“I tend to believe that as the economy grows, tourism grows,” Hibbler said. “It’s one of the largest and fastest growing revenue streams in the world. When investors and consumers don’t have confidence in the economy, they will be much more cautious in their spending and leisure activity.”