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Chicago tourism turns attention to promoting neighborhoods

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Wicker Park host the third annual Green Music Fest features eco-conscious bands, vendors highlighting green technology, cooking demos and more, reflecting the hip and environmentally-conscious West Town community by fusing original live music with green vendors, services and local retail, art, craft and food vendors. June 26, 2011. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 20, 2013 6:35AM

The tourism marketers of Chicago promote McCormick Place and downtown sites above all, but a new campaign they are trying would use humor and hometown talent to get visitors into the neighborhoods.

The head of Choose Chicago, the city’s refashioned tourism agency, said Monday it hopes to soon launch a website that will focus on neighborhood attractions. Don Welsh, the group’s chief executive officer, said promotional videos have been shot for Wicker Park and Bucktown.

If a sponsor can be found, the two adjoining neighborhoods would be the first to get the star treatment from the tourism agency. Welsh said he hopes the website, which would be linked from, can be introduced in a few weeks.

The goal, Welsh said, is to complete a similar promotion for 12 neighborhoods in about a year.

Videos for the communities would be made with help from the Second City comedy troupe.

Warren Wilkinson, Choose Chicago’s chief marketing officer, said the agency wants to apply some wit to the sales job. “Some of these travelogues can get real boring,” he said.

“We write it and we encourage them [the Second City hosts] to bring their personality to it,” he said. The Wicker Park and Bucktown videos used Second City players Holly Laurent and Edgar Blackmon.

The campaign marks another effort by the agency to use its enlarged funding on new promotions of the city. Choose Chicago, which gets cash from hotel taxes and other sources, is projecting its revenue this year to more than double from 2011, to $32.6 million.

The growth comes from its takeover of City Hall’s old tourism office, $5 million from the city budget, tax increases enacted in 2010 as part of labor reforms at McCormick Place and a general resurgence in tourism since the recession. Officials said the funding increase lets it better compete for business that Las Vegas, Orlando, New York and San Francisco also solicit.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has given the agency orders to increase tourism to more than 50 million visitors annually vs. about 45 million in 2012, and to draw more international travelers.

Choose Chicago has raised its spending on international markets from just $250,000 to about $3 million a year, Welsh said, and has opened nine offices around the world. It also has invested in a $2 million annual TV advertising buy to draw people from nearby cities such as Milwaukee and St. Louis.

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