City officials promote Chicago as tourism destination despite recent violence

February 21, 2013 2:26:58 PM PST
Could Chicago be the next big tourist destination? Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of Choose Chicago, the city's tourism bureau, certainly hope so.

The mayor was present at Choose Chicago's annual meeting Thursday, where it was announced that the city wants to increase its number of visitors to 70 million a year.

Through its partnership with the city, the organization will receive an extra $5 million in annual funding to promote Chicago and O'Hare and Midway airports.

"We're working in partnership with the city, the Department of Aviation and Choose Chicago to ensure that we are able to market our city and our airports to the world," said Rosemarie Andolino, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner.

The bureau says several new attractions are on the table to aid in bringing more tourists to Chicago.

"A ride in a gondola which is basically a glass enclosed cable car, 150 feet in the air going at super high speed along the river, along the lakefront," said Bruce Rauner, Choose Chicago chairman.

An increase in tourism could mean up to 100,000 new jobs, and a doubling in direct spending every year from the travel industry.

Tourism is already responsible for 128,000 jobs, with 43.6 million annual visitors who generate $725 million in tax revenue and $12 billion in direct spending.

Emanuel believes that under the new initiative, the numbers can increase.

"We have everything it takes to move to number 1. I've set a goal that by 2020, 50 million from 43 million, all within our capacity," said Emanuel.

The plan comes as Chicago continues to receive national scrutiny for violence-- even prompting a call for the National Guard to help diffuse the city's crime and surging homicide rates.

"We've got the equivalent of a tornado here. Let's bring in help from surrounding communities, free up the Chicago police and help control the city," said Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, US Army.

Despite the debate on violence, tourism officials say Chicago has the potential to be an international travel destination.

"We had a gradual fall off in the industry. But we're back. We're pushing back," said Don Welsh, Choose Chicago president.

Some tourists seem to agree, saying Chicago remains their choice for travel.

"For people who know anything about Chicago, that's not true. There's more to Chicago than Al Capone," said Torstein Gjesture, a visitor from Norway.