Members and corporate partners of Meet Chicago Northwest received an update Wednesday on the 30-year-old tourism bureau's outreach efforts during the nine months since changing its name from the Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau.
They also heard about the changing nature of statewide tourism promotion -- including the current "Mini Abe" TV and social media campaign -- from Jen Hoelzle, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Tourism.
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Hoelzle said the "Mini Abe" spots -- in which a small, animated Abraham Lincoln doll breathlessly takes in various Illinois sights -- has proved to be a huge hit. Her office's social media interaction went up 37 percent the day after the campaign launched last fall and quickly generated more than 20,000 followers on Twitter.
"Mini Abe" will soon be the star of only the second national media commercial the Illinois Office of Tourism has ever purchased.
Hoelzle thanked Gov. Pat Quinn and her other bosses in the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for being willing to let her office take a risk on "Mini Abe."
The statewide campaign will soon dovetail with Meet Chicago Northwest's efforts in the Northwest suburbs with photo opps for the popular character now being arranged in late June at Woodfield Mall, Arlington International Racecourse, the Legoland Discovery Center, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament and TopGolf.
Hoelzle said the tourism industry is bouncing back both statewide and nationally, in part from efforts to promote U.S. tourism internationally for the first time. Though further 2013 data is still coming in, it's already known that Illinois saw a record $236 million in hotel revenue last year and welcomed 103.5 million domestic visitors.
Nevertheless, tourism -- and vacation time in general -- still needs to be promoted more among hardworking Americans, Hoelzle said. Apart from the social and psychological benefits of taking time off, $73 billion would be generated for the economy if everyone in the U.S. used one more vacation day this year, she said.
Meet Chicago Northwest President Dave Parulo spoke about the specific changes in his agency since taking on the challenge a year ago to redefine the Northwest suburbs and market them as a travel destination. Among the new branding tools it uses are the phrase "Better on the Edge" to describe meetings, events and sports west of O'Hare International Airport, a "Go big or go home" approach to advertising and a stronger embrace of social media.
The agency is now producing its own international marketing videos in both German and Japanese -- languages chosen because of the existing presence of businesses from those countries in the Northwest suburbs.
Meet Chicago Northwest also partnered with the Daily Herald for a photo contest in conjunction with National Tour & Travel Week. Next February, a second annual Restaurant Week is planned, with the number of participating restaurants aimed to increase from 33 to 50 or more, Parulo said.
The new 2014 visitor guide, titled "Indulge On the Edge," will be released in late June, and Parulo asked member businesses and other agencies to help distribute it and raise the region's profile.
"Our job is to welcome visitors," Parulo said. "It's important to realize that these people are bringing money to our region."