Chicago offers some good news for often under funded destination management organizations.Visitors to Chicago extended their stay, increased their spending and planned return visits as a direct result of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture’s Visitor Information Centers and website. This is according to the preliminary findings of a study conducted by Nichols Tourism Group (NTG) and the National Laboratory of Tourism and eCommerce (NLTeC) at Temple University.
The Visitor Information Centers operated by the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture (COTC) stimulated $32 million in additional spending and 66,000 additional room nights from extended stays in 2010 – and its website, ExploreChicago.org, “significantly influenced” $172 million in spending and $3 million in local taxes – according to preliminary survey results provided by NTG and NLTeC. Additionally, 21 percent of the Visitor Center guests surveyed noted they will plan another trip to Chicago because of the information they received, stimulating an estimated $97 million in future spending.
“These findings confirm and quantify what we’ve known for many years: our strategy for marketing Chicago’s cultural assets and providing extreme service to the leisure traveler is producing significant results,” says Dorothy Coyle, executive director, Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.
COTC is dedicated to promoting Chicago as a premier cultural leisure destination to domestic and international leisure travelers, and providing innovative visitor programs and services. COTC is a board-governed 501(c)(3) funded by the City and the State, primarily through hotel tax funds. There were nearly 40 million total visitors to Chicago in 2010, three-quarters of which were leisure travelers.
The Chicago visitor industry generates more than $11 billion in direct spending, $616 million in tax revenue, and sustains more than 124,000 jobs for the city’s economy.
“The results of this study underscore the fact that travel promotion is a smart investment in economic vitality,” says Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Investing in travel promotion means more travelers will be spending more money in Chicago, which will add jobs and increase tax revenues.”
After a restructuring in January 2011, COTC engaged Nichols Tourism Group and the National Laboratory of Tourism and eCommerce in the spring to gain a greater understanding of the role and impact of its programs and services. Over the summer, researchers surveyed hundreds of guests at COTC Visitor Information Centers and web users (as well as COTC partners and program attendees), and have developed preliminary findings from initial survey results. These preliminary findings have a margin of error of 5 to 10 percent and the results will be expanded as survey efforts continue through 2011.
Last year, 546,000 guests utilized COTC’s Visitor Information Centers to get the most out of their Chicago experience, and this summer overall foot traffic increased by 3.6 percent. COTC operates not just one, but three Visitor Information Centers to maximize its connection to visitors – conveniently located at the Chicago Cultural Center, at the Chicago Water Works and in Millennium Park, COTC reports.
COTC embraces what is known throughout corporate America: ongoing customer relations and retention is critical in maximizing destination potential. Given that the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has estimated it costs 11 times as much to attract a new customer than maintain an existing one, the value of investing in customer relations through Visitor Center connections is clear.
Key findings from the preliminary Visitor Information Center survey results include:
• Over half (59 percent) of guests noted they visited additional attractions different from those originally planned, and almost 1/3 (31 percent) noted they changed activities they participated in as a result of travel information they received from the Visitor Centers.
• 12 percent of guests noted they extended their stay from that originally planned by an average of 1.5 additional days as a result of information they received from COTC Visitor Centers. These extended stays equate to 66,000 additional room nights that created demand at hotels, restaurants and attractions.
• 39 percent of Visitor Center guests spent an average of $220 more in Chicago than they originally planned, pumping an additional $32 million into the local economy.
• 21 percent of Visitor Center guests will plan another trip to Chicago because of the information COTC provided, stimulating an estimated $97 million in future spending.
• Repeat visitors, one of the most high-value customer segments, often need help in knowing Chicago more deeply. Two-thirds of COTC Visitor Center guests have been to Chicago on a 2- to 4-day getaway in the past three years and desire help in maximizing their Chicago experience.
• Visitors can be influenced; 2/3 of COTC Visitor Center guests noted they made most of their decisions after they arrived in Chicago.
• Many destinations around the country covet the cultural visitor and work hard to connect with them. COTC Visitor Centers achieve this goal, as the most frequent topic of travel information desired by guests is on Arts, Culture and Museums (50 percent).
• Personal interaction with guests is important; the vast majority of guests (90 percent) talked with a Visitor Center Representative while at the facility and 97 percent of these rated their personal interaction as either good or superior.
The Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture is a leader in using cutting-edge technologies and social media to promote Chicago as a premier leisure travel destination, COTC says. Chicago’s cultural and tourism assets are heavily marketed through ExploreChicago.org and via an integrated social media strategy that maintains an active presence on Foursquare, SCVNGR, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
ExploreChicago.org, the City of Chicago’s Official Tourism Site, is the No. 1 travel and tourism website for Chicago based on traffic volume, COTC says. It experienced a strong 15 percent increase in traffic in 2010 – and year to date has registered 5.3 million visits, a 38 percent increase over this time last year. In June 2011 alone, the site logged a record 1.1 million visits. COTC web resources are trusted by visitors, provide key event related information and help visitors learn about the city.
Key findings from the preliminary website survey results include:
• The website significantly influenced 293,000 prospective travelers to visit Chicago.
• Considering average Chicago visitor spending patterns, it can be estimated that COTC’s website significantly influenced $172 million in direct spending and about $3 million in local taxes.
• ExploreChicago.org helps build repeat visitation. Many website users (60 percent) know Chicago and have traveled to the city in the past three years. COTC’s website is a key conduit to help stimulate these past visitors to return.
• Building a level of trust with web visitors is of key importance and COTC has been able to develop these perceptions with its visitors, as over 2/3 (64 percent) rate ExploreChicago.org as “very” or “extremely” trustworthy.
• ExploreChicago.org is “rich” with event information – the most important content for these website users. Event related information was rated the most important content by over 2/3 (68 percent) of website visitors. This was followed by “Attractions” (61 percent), “Free Things to Do” (51 percent), Restaurants (44 percent) and Hotels (37 percent).
• The ability to learn about culture and Chicago neighborhoods is very important to website users. When asked what factors are “extremely important” when taking their trip to Chicago, “Learning about Culture and Chicago Neighborhoods” was chosen most frequently (49 percent) followed by “Doing Exciting Things” (47 percent) and “Learning Something New” (47 percent).
The Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture recognizes the powerful potential of partnering and has spent years fostering relationships with some of Chicago’s – and the world’s – most successful businesses and organizations. These partnerships not only leverage public sector dollars; they also build interest and support for COTC through the power of “brand association.” Survey efforts in this area will continue through 2011, COTC says.