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City’s tourism offices merge

Tourism money

Chicago’s annual tourism budget is $17.8 million. That pales by comparison to most other major cities.

Annual budgets:

Las Vegas, $225 million

Orlando, $49.8 million

New York, $40 million

Toronto, $32 million.

Reno, $31.5 million

San Francisco, $27.4 mil.

Montreal $27.2 million

Philadelphia, $26 million

San Diego, $25.4 million

San Antonio, $20.7 mil.

Miami, $19 million

Los Angeles, $19 million

Updated: March 2, 2012 8:18AM

With an ambitious goal of attracting 10 million more visitors by 2020, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is merging two major tourism organizations to free up $1.3 million to market Chicago nationwide and overseas.

At the mayor’s behest, the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau is joining forces with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. The merger will produce a coordinated game plan and save $1.3 million in annual administrative costs that will be pumped into national and international marketing.

The new organization will be run by Don Welsh, CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau.

Welsh said Chicago’s efforts to attract more tourists has been hampered by “somewhat of a splintered approach” toward marketing the city.

“We have a couple of different websites. The city, the Convention Bureau and the state have all been involved. In the eyes of consumers, they’re a bit confused about who really is the known identified marketing organization,” he said.

Welsh noted that Chicago currently has just three international sales offices — in Bejing, Shanghai and London — and spends the “least of any major U.S. city” on international marketing.

As a result, Chicago claimed just 4.3 percent of the 27 million overseas travelers to the U.S. in 2010, compared to 32 percent for New York City, which has 18 international offices.

“For a city of our size and the number of international flights we have to have just 1.2 million visitors — we should realistically be in the top five” American cities for international travelers, said Welsh, who plans to open new sales offices in Mexico, Canada and Brazil.

He added, “We embrace the idea of getting to 50 million tourists by 2020. The mayor feels that a combined organization with a singular focus and website and all the resources of people [working together] is the most realistic way of achieving the goal.”

Dorothy Coyle, executive director of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, predicted that the added investment in marketing would “make a huge difference in getting more people” to Chicago.

“If you look at the economy entering a recovery phase and think about consumers who have pent-up demand to enjoy a weekend getaway or a trip somewhere, these efforts are well-timed. They’ll be very focused to maximize the strength of what the organizations were doing individually,” she said.

Chicago currently attracts 40 million annual visitors, but only 1.2 million of them come from overseas.

Emanuel’s goal is to raise it to 50 million visitors by 2020 and to move into the top five cities for international tourists. Chicago currently ranks 10th among U.S. cities.

A 25 percent increase could raise visitor spending by $3.6 billion-a-year and boost annual tax revenue by up to $300 million.

Last week, the mayor reiterated his long-standing contention that the upcoming NATO and G-8 summits present a golden opportunity to showcase Chicago on the international stage.

“You have 3,000 foreign journalists coming to Chicago [and] 60 heads of state. We’re a world-class city with world-class potential. We always do well when people come see Chicago and Chicago can tell its story,” he said.

“It’s a huge opportunity for its tourism industry, which we need to move up in the ranks where foreign tourists come to the city. This is an opportunity for people to see what I know this city to be: the greatest city in the greatest country because this is the most American of American cities.”

Chicago’s annual tourism budget now stands at $17.8 million, thanks to an increase in the airport departure tax tacked on to taxicab, limousine and shuttle buses traveling to and from O’Hare and Midway Airports. But, that spending still pales by comparison to most other major cities.

Las Vegas leads the pack with $225 million-a-year, followed by Orlando at $49.8 million. Also topping Chicago are: New York ($40 million); Toronto ($32 million); Reno ($31.5 million); San Francisco ($27.4 million); Montreal ($27.2 million); Philadelphia ($26 million); San Diego ($25.4 million); San Antonio ($20.7 million) and Miami and Los Angeles (at $19 million apiece).

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