Looking to draw back visitors after the pandemic sent Chicago’s tourism industry plummeting, the city’s official tourism arm is rolling out a new marketing campaign.
Later this month, the “When You Go You Know” campaign will hit social media and advertising displays across the region and country. It’s intended not only to draw visitors to the city, but to encourage them to make more than a day trip out of their visit, driving hotel stays, said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of Choose Chicago.
In one example of the type of advertising the campaign will include, block letters on an animated billboard spell out the question, “is it really just a 20-minute water taxi ride to China?” The next frame includes an image of Chicago’s Chinatown behind the word “Chicago” and the campaign catchphrase: “when you go you know.”
The marketing campaign comes as Chicago officials touted a significant rise in tourism in 2021 compared with 2020, though the hospitality and tourism industries have yet to return to their pre-pandemic levels.
In 2021, about 30.7 million people visited Chicago. That was nearly double the number that visited during the first year of the pandemic, but was just half of the 61.5 million visitors who came to the city in 2019, according to numbers provided by Choose Chicago. International visitors to Chicago are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Hotel occupancy for the year was also up from 2020, but remained well below 2019 levels. Tourism-related employment, which includes jobs like hotel and airline workers, was at 60% of pre-pandemic levels (source: Choose Chicago).
Hotel tax revenue more than doubled from 2020 according to Choose Chicago. The agency could not immediately provide 2019 figures.
“The momentum going into 2022 is amazing,” Osmond said.
The new marketing campaign comes as Chicago looks to rebuild its image as a tourist and business destination, and to overcome concerns about crime, whether perceived or real. It is intended to highlight more than just things visitors can do in the city, Osmond said.
“Through the campaign, we are illustrating the emotional and transformative impact our city can have on visitors,” she said in a statement. “We also want people to experience Chicago as it should be experienced and the campaign helps change people’s perspectives of what they may think Chicago has to offer.”
Osmond cited research that she said showed travelers want “unique, authentic and personally enriching experiences.” Rather than simply getting out of town, many tourists want to learn about a place and themselves during a trip, she said.
The campaign covers a range of topics, and shines a spotlight on city neighborhoods, she said.
“When You Go You Know” follows a guerrilla marketing campaign launched in January, “Chicago Not In Chicago.” Created pro bono by Chicago ad agency Energy BBDO, it touts a long list of homegrown innovations like the cellphone and the skyscraper for which little credit is given to the city of origin.