The greatest asset to tourism in the suburbs and Illinois lies in the local people whose interactions with tourists make the area a great place to visit.
That was the message brought to suburban business and government leaders Thursday during the Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau's annual breakfast meeting in Schaumburg.
Bureau President David Parulo highlighted many of the major events that took place in the region during the previous year, from the Ryder Cup golf and Big 10 women's college basketball tournaments to dragon boat races on Lake Arlington and the numerous conventions and festivals held in the suburbs. While the events themselves drew people from across the country and globally, Parulo said it's the interaction with the people who work and live locally that makes tourism here so great.
"There are lots of faces in tourism, but in the end you are the face of tourism," Parulo said. "Give someone directions, help that confused driver, talk to that nice couple in the restaurant,
"Visitors don't wear name badges that say 'Hi, I'm a visitor,'" he added. "Being proud of your region is, at the end of the day, being tourism promotion."
Jen Hoelzle, deputy director for the Illinois Department of Tourism, brought that message to a broader level, showing a video of the new television ad campaign highlighting four Illinois residents, from a pie maker in the downstate town of Atlanta to Chicago blues guitarist Eddy Clearwater. The campaign was recently expanded nationally and into Canada, with similar ad campaigns going globally.
"We're taking our greatest assets -- our people -- and we're sharing that with people internationally," Hoelzle said. "And we're finding this real quirky."
She noted the campaign has already resulted in increased traffic to the state tourism's website. Since the national campaign started on May 31, the enjoyillinois.com website has seen a 65 percent increase in visits and a 282 percent increase in direct traffic (people going directly to the website).
The department also set up a promotion in a public square in Toronto last month, which had 8,000 people walk through the promotion area and 3,000 interact with representatives, she said. Other events planned globally include "pop-up" blues concerts in Germany and spotlighting a relative of Abe Lincoln who currently lives in the United Kingdom.
"The largest barrier to visiting Illinois is awareness," she said. "People don't realize what we have and don't realize our assets.
"We need to have that robust advertising campaign and creative PR."
The Department of Tourism will release 2012 tourism figures next month. While Hoelzle did not provide any figures, she said "2012 was record breaking," comparing it to recent numbers released by the city of Chicago that showed a 6.1 percent increase of overnight visitors in 2012 from the previous year.
On a regional level, Parulo said hotel occupancy in the market increased 5 percent in 2012 while average room rates were up 5.3 percent and revenue per available room was up 10 percent.
In addition, Parulo announced a consultant has been brought in to rebrand the organization, with the new brand being announced this fall.
"We want a brand to represent the region," he said. "We want it to be aspirational. It has to be bold and sophisticated, but approachable."