City to implement new overseas tourism markets

By Chris Loeber

Amid monetary woes and the ongoing endeavor to balance the city’s budget, Chicago plans to generate additional revenue by tapping new international tourism markets.

At an April 5 meeting with the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the 2013 openings of Chicago-focused tourism offices in Brazil, Japan and Germany.

“Chicago is a global city with worldwide appeal, and I am committed to ensuring that people around the world have a chance to experience our magnificent city firsthand,” Emanuel said in a written statement. “I am dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of visitors to Chicago and fostering economic development and job growth throughout the city as a result of these efforts.”

The announcement follows a Feb. 1 written statement in which the mayor set goals of attracting 50 million visitors annually by 2020 and making the city one of the top five most-popular destinations in the country for international visitors. Chicago is currently ranked No. 10, according to the statement.

As stated in a 2011 report released by the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, Chicago hosted 39.3 million tourists in 2010. Annual visitor spending is projected to increase from $11 billion to approximately $14.7 billion if the city is successful in its endeavor to attract an additional 10 million tourists each year, according to the mayor’s Feb. 1 statement.

Warren Wilkinson, chief marketing officer at the CCTB, said international visitors spend an average of $4,000 per visit.

Chicago is in a good position to pursue overseas travelers, said Max Schroeder, president of the Chicago Business Travel Association. Events such as the 2012 NATO summit are drawing the attention of international travelers, he said.

“The more people we can get into the city, the more it affects the overall economic impact,” Schroeder said. “Mayor Emanuel and the other officials have done a great job of attracting businesses [and individuals] to the city for both leisure and business.”

The new overseas offices come at a time when efforts to increase tourism in Chicago have fallen behind those of other major U.S. cities. According to Wilkinson, Chicago has five overseas tourism markets, while Orlando, Fla., New York City and Las Vegas each have 15 – 20.

“This is a great opportunity for Chicago to elevate itself on the world stage,” Wilkinson said. “We’re a global destination, and we have been on the sidelines when it comes to promotion.”

Chicago currently has offices in London, Toronto, Mexico City, Beijing and Shanghai that were built in 2011 and earlier this year. The new offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan will ensure the city is represented on four continents as a tourist destination, according to Wilkinson.

As part of the effort to increase tourism, the COTC will be combined with the CCTB to create a new department called Choose Chicago that will manage tourism for the city, said COTC Director of Communications Jamey Lundblad in a written statement. The consolidation will be completed by July.

“By merging these two offices, we’re going to gain some efficiencies, but we’re also coalescing into one much more authoritative voice for tourism,” Wilkinson said. “We will [act] in a much more proactive manner that is looking outside of Chicago.”

The annual savings of approximately $2 million through the creation of Choose Chicago will be used to finance the overseas tourism offices. Additionally, city tourism officials will be able to focus on attracting international visitors, Wilkinson said.

“This is not an inexpensive effort; we’re going to spend between a quarter million and $350,000 per market,” Wilkinson said. “A portion of it is in fees and the rest of it is in promotion, marketing and public relation efforts.”