City’s top tourism promoter to depart

Choose Chicago and its CEO, David Whitaker, have agreed not to renew five-year deal as the agency struggles with cuts forced by the pandemic.

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David Whitaker, CEO of Choose Chicago, is leaving the city’s tourism promoter in July.

Sun-Times file photo

Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism promoter, said Wednesday it is not renewing the contract of its president and CEO, David Whitaker.

Whitaker’s five-year agreement expires July 6, the group said. It said the decision to not renew the contract was mutual.

“Given his leadership and accomplishments over the last five years, the Executive Committee asked David to remain through the full period of the agreement, and David has agreed to stay through his full term,” said Cynthia McCafferty, a spokeswoman for the group. “During this time, David will continue to work with the Choose Chicago senior leadership team in advancing and implementing the 2021 Strategic Plan and ensuring a smooth and seamless transition.”

His exit comes amid turmoil for groups that promote business growth and tourism here. The pandemic has slashed revenue from hotel taxes and other funding sources while forcing leaders to rethink strategies. The focus has become how to encourage visitors and businesses to return once the health crisis lifts.

Choose Chicago has laid off some staff, while those that have remained have taken pay cuts. McCafferty said Whitaker’s departure had nothing to do with the pandemic or with budget cuts. Before COVID-19, the group had an annual budget of about $30 million while the city was setting tourism records.

Whitaker did not respond to a message. His last reported salary, according to the organization’s tax filing, was $507,455 in 2018.

In a letter to board members, Choose Chicago Chairman Glenn Eden said, “There was significant thought and consideration involved in this decision. By coming to this conclusion early, we have nearly four months to map out a transition plan carefully and strategically. Working with members of Choose Chicago’s leadership team, this plan is already under way.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed Eden, executive vice president at the public relations firm Weber Shandwick, as Choose Chicago chairman in 2019.

Among the local leaders on the Choose Chicago board are Chicago Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright and Robert Reiter, the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which has an ownership interest in the Sun-Times.

Another group, World Business Chicago, which encourages companies to relocate here, also is seeking new leadership. Andrea Zopp stepped down as president and CEO on Dec. 31 to join a venture capital firm. The group also has had to cut staff.

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