Chicagoans well-being should come before tourism

By Editorial Board

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to put Chicago on the map. He announced April 5 that the city’s Convention and Tourism Bureau will open new offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan July 1, in an effort to drastically increase international tourism to the city. Emanuel has set a goal of 50 million visitors by 2020 and said Chicago will host the U.S. Travel Association’s International Pow Wow in 2014.

Increased tourism to Chicago, especially international tourism, will no doubt bring revenue to the city. But tourism to Chicago is already exceptionally high, according to statistics from the city’s Office of Tourism and Culture.

Chicago is the 10th most visited city in the world in regard to overseas visitors and the third most popular in the country after Los Angeles and New York, according to the Office’s 2010 statistical report. Emanuel said he is not satisfied with the title and doesn’t believe “that the best kept secret in America should be the city of Chicago.”

But Chicago’s tourism, both domestic and international, has steadily climbed since the recession hit in 2008. In 2010, Chicago had 1.134 million visitors, up from 1.130 the year before. Perhaps not an enormous increase, but it is an improvement just the same. Chicago is also the top regional vacation destination, with approximately 71 percent of all overnight leisure travelers coming from within Illinois or neighboring states. Chicago can still maintain its reputation as a top travel destination without the opening of new offices.

Chicago constantly competes with L.A. and New York as a tourist haven. One overseas traveler spends on average $3,000–$4,000 per trip, according to the mayor’s office. When added up, the numbers are staggering. Plus, according to Emanuel, the consolidation of the travel and convention bureaus will save $2 million per year.

Ironically, some of Chicago’s must-see attractions for tourists  and residents have suffered from budget cuts under Emanuel’s administration. The Chicago Cultural Center, an architectural landmark, has faced serious repercussions. It no longer has its cafe, gift shop or some of its live music.

Emanuel’s push for an increase in international tourism is an ambitious goal, and there is nothing wrong with that. But Chicago is still one of the top 10 tourism destinations in the world and that’s not too shabby. Currently, it would be more practical to concentrate on improving the city for its residents.