City’s silly tourism “ideas” miss the obvious answer


When?  When?  When will the madness end?

We’ve watched for years, decades — an eternity it seems — as Chicago has continued to grapple with that most pressing of marketing issues:  How do we make this city a hotspot for tourists?

With Rahm Emanuel now at the city’s helm, it appears he has instructed his small circle of business buddies — including potential gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner — to double down and come up with some fresh answers to a question that has proved unanswerable for so long.

Now, Rauner, a slew of consultants and the busybodies at the so-called ChooseChicago— the name given to what amounts to our local convention and tourism bureau — have come up with a new list of, uh, attractions they believe will help Chicago finally become that mecca for tourists everyone in city government believes it can and must be.

Let’s start with the most ridiculous item on that list first, shall we? How does a gondola attraction grab you?

Imagine, if you can, tourists sitting in some glass-enclosed gondola cars slowly making their way from Navy Pier to some yet-to-be-determined final destination around where the Chicago River makes a sharp turn at the Merchandise Mart.

Navy Pier and tour boats delight visitors Can you imagine this?   We have been struggling to for some time.  What, we keep asking ourselves, would be compelling enough about this attraction to entice tourists from Peoria or Moline — let alone someone halfway around the world — to hop in a car or a plane and travel to Chicago?

Sure gondola riders would have the unforgettable (uh, not really) opportunity to see up close a river that looks like a lot of other rivers around the globe, along with some high-rise buildings — most of which along this particular route would be of only passing interest to anyone who has ever seen a tall building.

List of ideas sound absurd

But while we continue to contemplate the gondola ride, let’s move on to another suggestion on the list of attractions to boost tourism in Chicago.  That would be the laughable idea of float planes rides up and down the lakefront.

Unless ChooseChicago is planning to employ a Boeing 747 as a float plane to create economies of scale, it’s impossible to see how this could be an affordable attraction for most tourists who might make their way to the city to fly around our friendly skies.

Chicago’s skyline is always an attraction We know helicopter rides have long been popular in Hawaii. But that’s because it’s Hawaii, people. Tens of thousands of tourists are already there every day because it’s Hawaii, not because they wanted to take a helicopter ride.

Moving on down the list to what may be the most absurd suggestion of all, we find the idea of illuminating buildings around the city to create some sort of dramatic light show. Details here are sketchy. 

Sure light shows are a nice way to add a little kinetic flair to somewhere — that is, if there’s something exceptional about the way they are executed.  But even then, such an attraction would most certainly not be a game changer.

Yes, a casino would be a tourist magnet

Then we come to the only idea on the list that would clearly make a difference when it comes to making Chicago a magnet for more tourists.  That, of course, would the long-talked-about, yet-to-materialize casino that Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn have thought about plopping down somewhere in downtown Chicago.

Yes, gambling is an attraction (and an addiction) for a lot of people. Just ask the folks in Las Vegas, who have done pretty well for themselves on this front. Well enough, no doubt, for them to be laughing uncontrollably at the thought of Chicago — in the dead of winter — stealing away much of the gambling-fixated tourist traffic that now makes a beeline for that Nevada town.

Still, we have no doubt Emanuel won’t rest until he has put a casino in the city. A casino that — for better or worse — will become part of his legacy as mayor.  Emanuel needs the money that casino will generate too desperately to let it alone — regardless of whether it winds up badly tarnishing the city’s image instead of helping matters.

Bottom line,  what we’re trying to say to all those people at ChooseChicago that are trying to please Emanuel and show they know what their doing is this:  Chicago can’t — and won’t— become any more of a major tourist destination than it now is by simply tacking on a few more dubious tourist attractions.

New York, Los Angeles and London became the important and successful tourist destinations they are because of what they have to offer organically as great urban centers.  What they have had to offer to visitors for a very long time.

Chicago’s marketing campaign should be obvious

More than this list of nonsense that ChooseChicago is suggesting, what Chicago has long needed — but of course never gotten — is a marketing campaign that clearly and majestically sells this city as the great AMERICAN metropolis it is.

As part of that campaign, we need a soaring, unforgettable original anthem performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  An anthem that will immediately summon up this American city theme to millions of people around the world whenever they hear it and whenever they see an original, fresh  cavalcade of visuals that show off the city’s organic grandeur — much like what Michigan has done in its captivating, original and genuinely successful “Pure Michigan” campaign. 

Some may recall that a few years ago Illinois’s clueless tourism office shamelessly tried to rip off the “Pure Michigan” campaign — a pitiful statement indeed about this state and city’s marketing smarts in recent times.

This isn’t rocket science folks.  We will never be a New York or Los Angeles. Or London. Never.  No matter how hard we try. So Emanuel and his minions should accept that fact right now.

But instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to line the pockets of worthless consultants, Emanuel and his ChooseChicago cronies should take that money and invest it in a great and truly original ad campaign.  Remember “I Love New York?”  A lot of people sure do.

And, just as important, that ad campaign needs a truly generous media buy that will ensure the campaign is seen and heard AROUND THE WORLD, not just in a handful of markets within a 500-mile radius of Chicago. 

Small-minded, desperate thinking will get us nowhere.  The madness has got to stop.  It’s time to get smart about marketing Chicago.

Contact Lewis Lazare at