The falloff in the number of international visitors from 2013 to 2014 for Chicago did not cause much of a ripple in the tour and travel industry when the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office released its report on overseas visitors numbers to U.S. states and cities during ipw in Orlando (see following article), but interest in the city itself was high, especially when a subsequent item in the Chicago Business Journal seemed to link it to the earlier, quiet departure from Choose Chicago of the agency’s chief marketing officer, Shana Lee, after less than a year-and-a-half on the job. Lee had joined Choose Chicago from Travelport.
From 2013 to 2014, overseas visitor arrivals to Chicago dropped by 5 percent, and its share of the overseas visitors market also fell by a half percentage point. To be fair, Chicago could not have done anything to change the brutal 2013-2014 winter that might have had something to do with the numbers. Still, the departure of Lee—she has not been replaced—and the apparent move by Don Welsh, the agency’s president and CEO, to assume a greater role in the marketing aspect of Choose Chicago’s international program, has caused others in the city to take notice.
Among them, the Business Journal suggested, is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who “started tightening the screws a couple years ago and demanding ever-higher tourism counts to burnish his reputation and generate more income for a severely cash-strapped city.”
Inbound tried to see if Welsh had any response to the Journal article by leaving a message with Meghan Risch, vice president, corporate communications for Choose Chicago, but received no response. So we asked Lewis Lazare, the reporter who wrote the Business Journal article, if Welsh had any response to the item. “Are you kidding!?” he told us, adding, “Welsh and his crew have been in denial for years — that’s on orders from Rahm Emanuel of course!”
(Inbound Insight: Last fall, just a few months following what was a considered by most a successful ipw 2014 performance, Choose Chicago restructured their international department by laying off four key veteran sales executives and reducing their European representation groups to focus on building China. That reduction occurred too late in the year to have an effect on 2014 international arrivals; however, the polar vortex and extreme weather conditions and/or the downtown properties refocus on corporate and convention business over leisure may have reduced travel to the destination.)