Explore Chicago (dot com)

City needs the revenue and limelight, mayor says

This week, after putting up with record amounts of snow and unfathomably cold wind chills, most Chicagoans are dreaming of being anywhere but here. So it is with perhaps odd timing that Mayor Richard Daley unveils a new website promoting city tourism, inviting the nation to "explore Chicago."

ExploreChicago.org is an interactive site, featuring audio tours, slide shows, video clips, and podcasts to showcase the city's attractions and neighborhoods. An event-search page enables visitors to browse local activities by type, special interest, and location.

Internet users will also be able to book their flights and hotel rooms through the site via Orbitz.com, which will pay the city a percentage of the earnings.

"Chicago's world-class museums, sports, theatres, restaurants, and hotels sell themselves," Daley said. "What we need is far more people to take advantage of all we have to offer."

The site went up last summer in a "soft launch." So why is it being publicly unveiled now?

"Given the challenging economy, it is more important than ever for us to invest in 21st-century tourism programs that bring revenue to our city," said Dorothy Coyle, director of the Chicago Office of Tourism.

"With the election of Barack Obama as president, plus Chicago's candidacy for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, this is Chicago's time to shine, and the world is taking notice."

Some Chicagoans though believe that many tourism sites focus too much on the city's attractions and not enough on what makes Chicago the city that it is: its people. After all, visitors coming to Chicago likely already know about the lakefront, the skyscrapers, and the pizza. But do they know anything about our history or our culture?

Mike Doyle of ChicagoCarless explores this line of thought excellently in his criticism of ChooseChicago, another "official" tourism site:

"[I]n a city with the largest Polish population outside Poland, the deepest African-American cultural roots west of the Hudson, and the largest Mexican population east of the L.A. basin, our ethnic, racial, and cultural communities are attractions in themselves and a fundamental part of the story of our town.

"Also fundamental to our civic message is our story for being: who first came here, when, and why; how our previous populations put us on the map—before and after we burned down; what our celebrated neighborhoods are like today; and why you should visit them..."

Shouldn't tourists get to know us better than they know our steel-and-glass towers?

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