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PHOTO ESSAY ON PHOTOGRAPHY AT CLOUD GATE - Cloud Gate, or ‘The Bean’ in Millennium Park is one of the most photographed icons in the City of Chicago. (Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

Chicago to open tourism offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan

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SHARE Chicago to open tourism offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan

Chicago is opening international sales offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan – and bringing in the brightest minds in international tourism to find out which attractions need to be enhanced to attract visitors – in a move to achieve Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of attracting 10 million more visitors by 2020.

Chicago currently has five international sales offices – in Shanghai, London, Mexico City, Toronto and Beijing – and spends the “least of any major U.S. city” on international marketing. Las Vegas has 22 overseas offices. New York (18), Los Angeles (15) and San Francisco (13) also run circles around Chicago.

Chicago claimed just 4.3 percent of the 27 million overseas travelers to the U.S. in 2010, compared to 32 percent for New York City.

On Thursday, Emanuel announced plans to open three more offices – in Brazil, Germany and Japan – bringing the city’s international sales efforts to eight offices on four continents.

The offices will be paid for, in part, with the $2 million saved by merging two major tourism organizations into one office that will be known as “Choose Chicago.”

“We’re the third-largest city in America, and we’re tenth on foreign tourists to the city of Chicago,” the mayor told the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau at the Cadillac Palace Theater. “ . . . And they spend money. They’re my kind of people. They come. They eat. They enjoy. But, they leave – just like I want my family to do without the eating part,” he joked.

“We’ve consolidated three offices here in the city that deal with the tourism and convention business, and we’re gonna open three offices around the world where the tourists exist. It doesn’t take a lot of geniuses to do that, but it took years of study to come up with that conclusion.”

For the first time in 15 years, Chicago will also play host to the U.S. Travel Association’s International Pow Wow in 2014. The three-day meeting is widely known as the travel industry’s premier showcase and largest generator of travel to the United States.

Despite the budget crises the city and state face, tourism board chairman Bruce Rauner said it’s time to think creatively about ways to increase the city’s marketing budget.

Rauner said he plans to launch a strategic planning process – and bring in the best minds in international tourism from around the world – to assess Chicago’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Assess Chicago,” Rauner said. “Compare our strengths and weaknesses to other cities, both nationally and internationally. Find out where we’re strong. Where we’re weak. Where might we want to enhance our offerings and then, develop an implementation effort to make that happen to enhance our offerings, enhance attractions we can offer to visitors.”

Chicago attracts 40 million visitors a year, but only 1.2 million of them come from overseas.

Emanuel’s goal is to raise it to 50 million visitors by 2020 and to move into the top five cities for international tourists. Chicago currently ranks tenth among U.S. cities.

Projections show a 25 percent increase could raise visitor spending by $3.6 billion-a-year and boost annual tax revenue by up to $300 million.

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