Chicago CVB/Tourism Office Combined; Don Welsh Will Lead Both

February 1, 2012

In an effort to streamline operations and save costs, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to combine the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, naming current CVB head Don Welsh president and CEO of the new entity.

Joining the two organizations not only is meant to save $1.3 million in administrative costs that will be reinvested in national and international marketing campaigns, but also sets a goal of attracting 50 million visitors per year by 2020, resulting in nearly $4 billion a year in additional annual revenues for Chicago’s economy.

“It’s a big, bold, strategic move,” Welsh said.

Besides a focus on drawing in more regional and international leisure visitors, Welsh said there will be continued efforts to bolster the convention and meetings industry in Chicago.

“In the world of conventions and meetings in Chicago, nothing has been bigger than getting the labor reforms resolved at McCormick Place,” Welsh said.

He added that within a month of taking office, Emanuel made it his priority to help solve the labor situation at McCormick that was a result of show organizers pulling their shows from the venue citing high labor costs.

“To me, (solving this situation) was the biggest victory we’ve had,” Welsh said.

Now, with the bureau and tourist office combined, the city is ready to move forward and attract even more visitors to the city.

“This new organization will allow us to focus all of the city’s efforts to attract visitors for business, pleasure, and culture,” Emanuel said.

He added, “By coordinating our efforts and establishing clear, measurable goals, we will show the world that Chicago is the best place to visit.”

As a result of the increase in visitors, tax revenues are expected to increase anywhere from $250 to $300 million per year, while visitor spending is expected to increase by $3.6 billion to $14.7 billion annually.

Welsh said next steps included working on a combined plan to launch a unified organization with a new name and structure by July 1.

One of the biggest benefits that will come from the joint efforts, he added, is the increase in funds earmarked to bring even more convention and meetings into Chicago.

“We spent $500,000 to $700,000 this year,” Welsh said. “Clearly, we want to do more than that.”

Chicago’s annual tourism spend is close to $18 million, compared with other top-tier U.S. destinations, such as Las Vegas, with $225 million annually to spend, and Orlando, with nearly $50 million.

Chicago will get a chance to show off what it has to offer on an international stage with two major events – the NATO and G-8 summits – on tap on the city May 19-21.

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