Choose the Chicago travel agency spending $ 1.1 million in neighborhoods

In light of the devastating effects of COVID-19 on small businesses and the ongoing national race math, for the first time, the Choose Chicago board of directors has allocated $ 1.1 million in our 2022 budget to support and promote neighborhood tourism. These funds will be used to promote our “City of Neighborhoods” and help change the way the tourism industry serves Chicago, one neighborhood at a time.

Chicago has a very diverse economy that draws on a handful of industries to power the economic engine of the Midwest. And while our industries in financial services; transport, distribution and logistics; life sciences; and food innovation are world-renowned, it is our congress, tourism and hotel sector that is most visible on a daily basis. Our hotels are among our largest employers, providing more than 108,000 jobs, and our world-class museums, sports arenas and beautiful parks also provide endless recreation for our residents.

Beyond the central business district, tourism has often been an afterthought, and our industry has rarely had a place at the table in discussions of economic and community development at the neighborhood level. But that is about to change.

Last year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Council recognized that neighborhood tourism is a critical part of a fair recovery, and the Recovery Task Force’s budget provided $ 820,000 for pilot programs to support and promote tourism in our neighborhoods.

Over the past nine months, we’ve focused on 10 neighborhoods: Albany Park, Pullman, West Ridge, Uptown, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Little Village, Chinatown, Bronzeville, and South Shore. Based on feedback from neighborhood stakeholders, we have developed resources to support small businesses in these areas. We’ve run free professional food photography for restaurant promotional purposes and run 101 social media sessions. We are now able to track visits to our neighborhoods; some areas see at least a 5% increase in visits from 2019. However, as you might expect, this increase is not evenly distributed across Chicago.

Our Neighborhood Content Creator project works with content creators across Chicago to promote their communities. These creators have reviewed and highlighted the neighborhood gems – restaurants, attractions, events, small businesses – on Instagram and TikTok. Choose Chicago has boosted these posts to expand reach. With social media ads and billboards across the country, we’re showing Chicagoans and tourists what makes our city special.

Since we started piloting this program in October, we have generated tens of thousands of clicks to small business listings. In Albany Park, the owner of a cafe featured by a content creator said he waited an hour in his dining room for the first time after the post was released.

Following the pilot’s success, Choose Chicago plans to expand this list of neighborhoods in 2022 to include as many interested communities as possible.

Tourism can bring the necessary capital to a community, but new customers and visitors can also lead to gentrification and the displacement of long-term residents. To help prevent this, Choose Chicago is working with neighborhood leaders to identify resources they can use to showcase their vibrant and prosperous communities.

An example already underway is the Chicago Alfresco program, a collaboration with the Chicago Department of Transportation announced last summer with $ 2.5 million from Diageo North America to improve public spaces for fun and alfresco dining. . We have exceeded our self-imposed target of distributing 75% of these funds to communities on the south and west sides, meaning more communities traditionally excluded from tourism have received additional support.

In Woodlawn, this program will result in a community grill area in an otherwise empty cul-de-sac, and in Belmont Cragin, the town is helping build a new public plaza with stalls for street vendors. It is these types of targeted investments, for tourism and others, that we will need to continue to make our recovery more equitable, especially as the pandemic continues to be anything but.

In 2022, we will expand our current pilot initiatives to more neighborhoods. We will also support additional community engagement and support, such as working with stakeholders on the south side to coordinate around the Obama Presidential Center, increase cross-community collaboration, and connect neighborhoods to resources that can improve guidance. close to their economic corridors. In no time, Choose Chicago renewed its focus on neighborhoods, we began to reimagine how tourism can truly benefit every part of Chicago.

Rob Fojtik is vice president of neighborhood strategy, a new role at Choose Chicago, the city organization that promotes Chicago as a global destination.

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