In April, international and domestic travel buyers, suppliers and media met in Chicago for the U.S. Travel Association’s 46th annual IPW (formerly known as the International Pow Wow), the largest generator of travel to the United States. It was the first time the event was held in the city since 1998 and correlated directly to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of attracting 55 million visitors by 2020 and making Chicago one of the five most-visited cities in the U.S.
“Chicago was absolutely amazing as a host city,” recalls Malcolm Smith, IPW general manager and vice president of business development at U.S. Travel Association, citing the energy and enthusiasm of local organizers who gathered 800 volunteers and a city-wide entertainment/dining/cultural display to welcome 6,000-plus delegates from 70 countries.
The five-day global summit let Chicago “showcase our city to the world,” says Cathy Domanico, tourism sales vice president at Choose Chicago. “For many delegates, this was their first visit to the city, so showcasing the best of Chicago was a spectacular opportunity.”
A Warm Welcome
One of the first kickoffs was a weekend brunch for international media held at 360 Chicago, formerly the John Hancock Observatory. Attendees were greeted by Mayor Emanuel and sampled the fare of local chefs before previewing the new Tilt attraction, which offers sweeping scenes of the city from a bird’s-eye view. As they peered out the north side of 360 Chicago, attendees noticed one big surprise: a “Welcome to Chicago, IPW” greeting carved into the sand at Oak Street Beach. The brunch was followed by one of 14 tours of the city’s arts, theater, culinary, lakefront, architecture and sports scenes.
Sunday evening’s opening ceremony, themed “How Do You Chicago?” was held at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. Event Creative, Jam Productions, Blue Plate Catering and Ben Smock of Toque + Bottle came together to turn nearly 100,000 square feet of raw warehouse space into a creative showcase of the city’s lakefront, architecture, iconic attractions and local flavor.
“The presentation was fresh and didn’t rely on Chicago clichés,” says Andrew Ettenhofer, business development at Event Creative. He points to the 30 chefs that delivered high-end local flavor and entertainment from Broadway Chicago’s Motown the Musical as examples. The décor, too, was full of replica El trains, funky chandeliers and video mapping and “added to the vibrant atmosphere and drew attendees’ vision up to key messaging,” he says.
Then it was time to get down to business. On Monday morning, delegates convened at McCormick Place, where more than 1,400 buyers—the largest number represented at the conference in a decade—met with 1,000 U.S. suppliers to negotiate future travel business. A record 95,000 appointments were held over three days.
“These meetings will result in more than $4.7 billion of future travel to the U.S. over the next three years,” Smith explains. “More than 8 million international visitors will spend $28 billion in the U.S., supporting nearly 115,000 jobs annually.”
At a local level, Chicago will also benefit. An exit survey of travel buyers found 69 percent are more likely to book Chicago than before IPW took place. So, naturally, there was cause for celebration.
IPW went out in style with a fabulous closing ceremony at the Museum of Science and Industry. Kehoe Designs, Jam Productions and Sodexo transformed each floor of the museum into a Chicago neighborhood—downtown’s Michigan Avenue, the cultural mecca of Devon Avenue and South Side arts communities Pilsen and Bronzeville—with décor, food and entertainment, including a headlining set from Janelle Monáe. “[Chicago] raised the bar for future host cities,” says Smith, who urged officials to bid for another upcoming IPW. “We would love to return.”