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How can Chicago attract more tourists? – Chicago Tribune

Chicago is hosting the US Travel Association’s trade show, which starts this weekend at McCormick Place. The city aims to attract 55 million tourists a year by 2020; we asked six people how Chicago can reach its goal.

Tout ‘the great American city’

By Elizabeth Blackwell

Chicago is already a lure for Midwestern vacationers and a logical meet-in-the-middle choice for American conventions. To get a jump in visitors, the city has to attract more travelers from overseas.

Face it: We’ve got lots of competition. International visitors planning a trip to the US usually head for iconic locations such as New York or Disney World. We need to set aside the old Second City complex and stop insisting that our theater scene is just as good as (or better) than New York’s, or trotting out Grant Achatz to show that our restaurants offer more than deep-dish pizza.

Chicago is a great American city. Maybe the great American city. A place where visitors from other countries can see what it’s really like to live in the United States.

We may not have New York’s flash or Los Angeles’ weather. What we can offer is a quintessentially American spirit of openness and hospitality: restaurants that focus on good food rather than trends; museums designed to be genuinely welcoming; and residents who get a kick out of helping tourists find their way around.

Come to Chicago, we should say, and you’ll discover America.

Blackwell was the author of Frommer’s Chicago guidebooks from 2001 to 2012.

New York City as rival, model

By Fred Dixon

We applaud Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s commitment to tourism as a vehicle for economic expansion and job creation.

Support from City Hall is vital to success in tourism. Here in New York City, with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support, we will surpass our own goal of 55 million annual visitors this year, one year ahead of schedule.

International travel is a cornerstone of our success, and we welcome the competition as stronger destinations make our country more appealing to long-staying, high-spending overseas travelers who often see several destinations in a single trip.

As Chicago has begun to do, NYC has invested heavily in markets overseas. The result is that international visitation to our city has grown 70 percent in less than a decade.

The world will see your city shine this week. We will be rooting for Chicago as you close in on your goal, and look forward to working together to keep the US a top choice for the world’s travelers.

Dixon is President and CEO, NYC & Company, New York’s marketing, tourism and partnership organization.

Chicago making strides in luring travelers

By Roger Dow

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of 55 million visitors annually is bold, but achievable.

Chicago has already made strides. The most obvious one is the reason that I am in town this weekend — you landed my show! My association’s meeting is the premier trade show for inbound travel to the US and will help brand Chicago as a world-class destination. Our show will convince more travel buyers to book trips here, so Chicago can expect an additional $1.6 billion in visitor spending over the next three years, according to a study by Rockport Analytics that we commissioned.

Chicago has taken other important steps, most notably landmark improvements at O’Hare International Airport. The international terminal has been transformed and the nation’s first automated passport control kiosks are speeding entry for overseas travelers.

Now the federal government needs to help Chicago, as well as the rest of the country. The US should do more to compete with destinations in Europe and Asia. Our airports suffer from a lack of funding for upgrades; not a single US airport is rated in the top 50 worldwide. Visa wait times for overseas travelers have improved but can still be onerous, and data show that millions of travelers are consciously avoiding trips to the US because of hassles and delays in customs.

Many problems could be addressed through pending legislation, such as the Jobs Originated Through Launching Travel Act. We hear Mayor Emanuel has friends in Washington; we hope he asks you to look up the bill.

Dow is President and CEO of the US Travel Association.

Chicago needs to update its image

By Kay Light

I returned home last year after traveling in Europe for 19 months. I walked through countless European travel agencies, airports, tourist offices and festivals and saw ads and brochures for Orlando, Las Vegas and New York City, but never for Chicago.

We met a British teen who thought Chicago was located on an ocean (seriously). An Austrian, learning our hometown, made Al Capone finger guns and said “bang, bang!” Our waiter in Barcelona asked us where we were from, and when we told him, he said, “Ohh, Michael Jordan!” with a huge grin. We thought, “Where have you been, buddy?”

It’s time to update our image.

We should coordinate with tourist offices abroad and make sure they have brochures and posters that show the real Chicago — the beaches, skyline, the Bean. We should also bring European travel agents to Chicago for a long weekend to familiarize them with river tours, boat rides, pizza and all the things that might entice them to sell Chicago.

Most major European cities have nonstops to Chicago, which is a huge bonus when trying to encourage travel with a six- to eight-hour flight. But after my experiences abroad, I believe Chicago needs to branch out to bring the tourists in.

Light is a travel agent at B&B; Travel in Schaumburg.

Technology behind tourism

By Chris Orton

Data-driven, online marketing techniques will help Chicago spend its tourism dollars wisely.

Traditional television and print advertising is expensive to produce and requires millions of consumer impressions to be effective. Orbitz deploys advanced analytical tools that segment travelers and inbound markets to know who is more inclined to consider Chicago. That allows us to target the 51 percent of travelers who do not have a destination in mind when planning their vacation.

The city can segment visitors using any criteria it chooses — people who enjoy cultural attractions, sporting events or top-rated restaurants, for example — then find people who fit into those buckets and market to them directly.

Strategies could include placing display ads on the right websites, paying for links on Google to direct people to Chicago tourism websites, and using the right keywords to move up Chicago websites in Google search rankings. This would allow the city to focus on people whose interests make them a likely fit for Chicago.

These same strategies can target emerging markets with large populations that are eager to travel, for example China and India, and that have wide access to the Internet. The science of marketing Chicago requires constant refinement, but these techniques will outsmart competing cities to attract visitors who are undecided on a destination.

Orton is chief operating officer and president, Orbitz.com. Orbitz powers online travel bookings for the Choose Chicago website.

Travel show is Chicago’s biggest job interview

By Don Welsh

This weekend marks the beginning of the US Travel Association’s trade show. The event itself is critical in meeting the mayor’s goal of increasing leisure travel to Chicago.

The scale of the show is staggering. More than 6,000 tour operators, travel writers, suppliers and other travel professionals will arrive from over 70 countries. McCormick Place will see 90,000 appointments, during which negotiations will result in billions of dollars in travel to the US

This year we will host the largest group of Chinese travel professionals — 106 — that have attended the show. On Sunday, we will take 500 foreign reporters to have a look at the new 360 Chicago Tilt exhibit on the 94th floor of the Hancock (we scheduled the unveiling to coincide with the show).

Four years ago, Choose Chicago had zero offices in foreign countries. Now we have nine: in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Japan and two cities in China. We’re opening another office in Chengdu, China, this spring and soon will set up shop in South Korea and Australia.

This is Chicago’s biggest job interview. We all know how great this city is. Now let’s show the rest of the world.

Welsh is president and chief executive officer of Choose Chicago, a nonprofit group that is the official destination marketing organization for Chicago.

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