By Alfred Borcover
Special to the Tribune
Published April 15, 2007
With billions of dollars in wages, profits and taxes at stake, not to mention millions of jobs, it’s no wonder that cities large and small continually prime their tourism pumps. Every city is image-conscious. Competition for visitors is stiff. And vacation options are endless.
With Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer vacation season, just weeks away, every U.S. destination is buffing its attractions and loading calendars with myriad events to lure families and everyone else looking for a getaway. After all, June, July and August are the months when 28 percent of Americans take their vacations, according to the Travel Industry Association.
Major cities spend big bucks to brand and market themselves to attract visitors who will spend mega-millions for lodging, meals, shopping, entertainment and festivals. Everyone wants a slice of the pie.
Take New York City, where travel and tourism supports an estimated 330,000 jobs and generates $24 billion annually in spending — it’s the city’s second most important industry after finance. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently added $15 million to NYC & Company’s $30 million budget to aggressively market the city globally. (NYC & Company is the city’s tourism, marketing and events organization.)
Bloomberg expects a record 44 million visitors in 2007 and has set a goal of 50 million tourists by 2015. This summer New York is starting to sell five cities in one, all five boroughs — Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island — not just Manhattan, the usual focal point of New York, said Kimberly Spell, NYC & Company’s vice president for communications.
Spell said NYC & Company is also trying to dispel three major misconceptions about the city: that crime is still a problem (in 2005 the FBI deemed the city the safest large city in the U.S.), that it’s too expensive (it is expensive, but not compared to London) and that there’s no sense of community (which Spell said exists on almost every corner).
Also in the works, a revamping of www.nyc visit.com to make it more user friendly. Or you can call 212-484-1222. If you just want to order a travel guide and not get questions answered, call 800-NYC-VISIT (800-692-8474).
A haven for snowbirds, Miami sells itself differently in the summer. It positions itself like a fashion brand, with ads using sexy models and featuring hotels in an arty way.
“We try to position Miami like Gucci, Fendi, Prada or Mercedes-Benz,” explained David Whitaker, executive vice president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are what we consume. What you wear or drive makes a statement about you. The same is true for your vacation experience. When you tell people you vacationed in South Beach, that says a lot.”
To keep the summer throngs engaged, Miami has created the Summer Festival Season that runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, lacing the calendar with fashion, film, sports, cultural, ethnic and music events, Whitaker said. Greater Miami’s marketing budget is about $6 million, plus another $800,000 for public relations.
Miami received nearly 11.6 million visitors in 2006, a figure that includes 5.3 million foreign overnight visitors.
For Miami information, go to www.miamiandbeaches.com, where you can find events and make hotel reservations. Or phone 800-933-8448.
Instead of models, Los Angeles calls on celebrities, such as Diane Keaton, Gary Marshall, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lionel Richie, to add glitter to its See My LA campaign. They describe what they like about L.A., appearing on billboards and in some TV commercials.
Like New York, there’s plenty to see in sprawling L.A. and Los Angeles County, from superb museums such as the Getty Center, Huntington Library and the Museum of Contemporary Art to TV and movie magic at Universal Studios. You can shop endlessly on Robertson Boulevard, Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue. Or just chill on a beach.
L.A.’s budget for its summer/fall promotion is $2 million, and its annual budget is $10 million. The city had 25.4 million visitors last year, 4.7 million of those foreign. Tourism is the city’s No. 2 industry, exceeded by international trade and followed, surprisingly, by movie and television production.
Travelers can find information and book hotel rooms at www.seemyla.com, or phone 800-228-2452.
L.A.’s neighbor to the north has branded itself as Only in San Francisco. Its biggest summer event this year is the Major League Baseball All-Star FanFest, July 6-10, at the Moscone Center West.
The July 10 MLB All-Star game is sold out, but the baseball fest, open to the public for a charge, will include video batting and pitching cages, and visits with baseball figures.
For non-fans, San Francisco offers a Fourth of July festival at Pier 39, an ethnic dance festival, the Fillmore Jazz Festival and the 45th annual Cable Car Bell-Ringing Contest.
San Francisco gets about 15.7 million visitors a year, four million from overseas. The bureau has an annual budget of $13.6 million, but only $200,000 to market its summer programs.
San Francisco’s user-friendly Web site, www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com, not only helps visitors plan their trips, but can book hotels, packages, cars, flights and dining. Or you can phone 415-391-2000.
And what about Chicago?
“We’re saying that Chicago is your playground this summer,” said Dorothy Coyle, director of the Chicago Office of Tourism. “We have 150 events that celebrate toys and games and the spirit of play, including things that were invented in Chicago.”
Besides play, the city’s summer events also include free Grant Park concerts in Millennium Park and the famed Taste of Chicago.
Chicago, which received 33 million visitors in 2005 (the latest figures) including one million from abroad, has a tourism marketing budget of $3.87 million, but receives assistance from the Illinois Bureau of Tourism. The Chicago Convention & Visitors Bureau devotes most of its energy and $14.5 million budget to wooing meetings and conventions.
You can also immerse yourself in the Art of Play from June 1 through Sept. 30, a theme aimed at families. Focal point of this celebration is “Niki in the Garden” at the Garfield Park Conservatory, an exhibition of more than 30 brilliantly colored whimsical sculptures of animals, mythical figures, sports heroes and totems. They’ll be on display from May 4 through Oct. 31.
For more information, go to www.cityof chicago.org/tourism, or phone 877-244-2246.