Chicago needs mass tourism advertising campaign on par with New York and Los Angeles


Los Angeles, meanwhile, reached 20 markets, including Chicago, during a 10-week promotional campaign that began in mid-April. Now LA is launching its first-ever national campaign, a $ 10 million effort built around a ‘comeback’ theme. Scheduled to start on July 5 and run through September, the campaign will include television, digital video, social media and more.

“The only way to achieve economic recovery in Los Angeles is to revive the travel industry,” says Don Skeoch, marketing director for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. “LA’s (leisure and hospitality) industry has been a leader in job growth, far exceeding overall job growth.”

New York and Los Angeles clearly understand the challenges of the tourism recovery. They are acting aggressively to seize a momentary opportunity that may elude Chicago. People who want to travel again are looking for their next destination. Cities that catch their attention now have a better chance of regaining or improving their pre-pandemic tourist stature. Those who remain behind risk losing ground definitively.

Travel and hospitality are essential to Chicago’s recovery. Tourism generated $ 16 billion in spending and supported more than 150,000 jobs in 2019, according to Choose Chicago, the agency that promotes the city. Travel is also a growing industry, with total visitors reaching 61 million in 2019, the eighth consecutive annual record.

All of those numbers fell when COVID-19 hammered travel in 2020. Hotels, restaurants and other hospitality-related businesses will not fully recover until visitors return.

Chicago has never been more important to leisure travel than New York, Los Angeles and a few other popular vacation destinations. The local travel industry is more dependent on conventions and business travel. But many doubt that business travel will return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, if ever. To fill the void, Chicago must attract more tourists.

Tourists are a different audience than business travelers and convention planners. Different audiences call for different marketing tools. A large-scale marketing campaign using television and other mass media is the best way to reach leisure travelers.

Small-scale, event-driven marketing will not reach many potential out-of-state vacationers. And the state’s recently unveiled “it’s time for me to drive” announcements are too broad to draw attention to Chicago. They seem more likely to inspire Chicagoans to explore their home state than to attract visitors from elsewhere.

Successful tourism strategies attract foreigners, bringing new money to the city and state. Promotions targeting Illinois residents only transfer money from one local pocket to another.

The economic benefits of tourism go beyond filling hotel rooms and restaurant tables. It also reinforces Chicago’s status as a global economic center by introducing the city to visitors from around the world. A vacationer won over by the city’s skyline, restaurants, and theatrical scene begins to think Chicago would be a great place for a business meeting. A conventioneer realizes that Chicago’s air routes make it an ideal location for a new corporate office, or even a corporate headquarters.

Chicago’s silence in national media markets doesn’t mean potential visitors don’t hear from us. And what they mainly hear are crime stories. Without a compensatory message, these stories will scare off potential visitors.

The fight against crime should be the city’s top priority. But that doesn’t mean Chicago should let crime stories define it in the public mind. We are not the only city to have seen an increase in crime over the past year. But other cities are telling other sides of their stories in national advertising campaigns.

A similar campaign emphasizing the positives of Chicago would balance the narrative and hopefully attract more visitors. We have a lot to offer as a travel destination: the lakeside, world-class theaters and museums, big league sports, great restaurants, to name a few. But people who live elsewhere are not necessarily aware of these things unless we tell them.

Funding, of course, is part of the reason Chicago doesn’t spend much on advertising. Choose Chicago’s budget and staff were cut in half when the tourist taxes that fund the agency fell last year. But the recently adopted US bailout will send $ 8 billion federal to Illinois and $ 2 billion to Chicago.

Less than 1% of that money would be enough to fund a large-scale advertising campaign promoting tourism in Chicago. It is a profitable investment.


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