Illinois Hospitality Groups: Restore “Choose Chicago” Funding

Three Illinois associations spent $50,000 on an ad campaign asking state lawmakers to restore funding for Choose Chicago, which is being affected by a budget stalemate. The groups argue without funding, tourism will decrease and hurt the state economically in the long run.

For five months and counting, the state of Illinois has not had a 2016 budget, largely due to political tension between the state’s Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Lack of a budget led Rauner to announce cuts in June to a number of state-funded programs, including Choose Chicago, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau. Failure to receive the $7.2 million it had budgeted for the year has not only jeopardized 40 percent of Choose Chicago’s $33.1 million operating budget but also prompted the group to lay off 28 people in October and close its offices in Canada and Mexico, according to a news release.

“We are incredibly disappointed that we have to take such drastic measures, but after making more than $2.3 million in expense reductions, and with no timeframe for the release of the $7 million in state funding we had budgeted for July through December 2015, we have no choice,” said Choose Chicago Chair Desiree Rogers. “If the statutorily mandated funding is not fully restored to Choose Chicago, everything we have worked for and successfully achieved over the last four years will become undone.”

Citing the negative impact a decline in tourism could have on the state, let alone the Windy City, tourism- and hospitality-related associations banded together and asked lawmakers to restore funding to the group, particularly before the extended 2015 legislative session adjourns on December 2.

“The restaurant, hotel, and tourism industry are all linked together,” Illinois Restaurant Association CEO Sam Toia told Associations Now. So when news broke that Choose Chicago was in need of assistance, Toia’s group, along with the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association and the Illinois Council of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, spent a combined $50,000 on advertisements ahead of the November 10 legislative session. Toia says the ads let elected officials and business leaders know how important conventions and tourism are in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.

“Choose Chicago’s strategies and initiatives have helped Chicago’s visitor industry grow at an exponential pace, delivering immense economic benefits, including new jobs and tax revenue,” Welsh said in a statement to Associations Now. “This industry delivers a critical source of tax revenue to the state with no investment from the state’s general fund. Without the immediate reinstatement of critical funding, the tremendous momentum this industry has witnessed will now begin to shift to a dramatic slowdown.”

The success of the ad campaign isn’t known as the budget stalemate continues on for now, but Toia said he’s hopeful the pressure is mounting for state lawmakers to remedy the issue. In addition, he said nearly 400 individuals have signed a petition to fund Choose Chicago. “We gotta keep people coming to Chicago,” he said.


Katie Rucke

By Katie Rucke

Katie Rucke is former Associate Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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