Dawn Young first joined Choose Chicago in June 2005 as director of association sales, and in May this year, was promoted to vice president of hotel sales. It’s a perfect example of rising up the ranks for someone who’s so passionate about moving tourism forward. Though her experience in the industry runs deep, she’s got her work cut out for her to keep the numbers growing: Chicago set a tourism record in 2017 with more than 55 million visitors. A major reason for that? “Chicago just rocks accessibility,” says Young. “It’s a city rich in culture, diversity and ethnicity, which I think is very attractive to the global audience.” We spoke with Young about the state of Chicago’s hotel industry.
ILM+E: So, what do you think—can Chicago break a new tourism record in 2018?
DY: We are always looking for ways to break records and surpass our achievements yearover-year. I certainly think it’s possible. We [launched] a new group incentive campaign in July for meetings in 2018 through the first quarter of 2021. First quarter is always one of our most challenging quarters as a Midwest destination, so [this incentive is] for groups requiring 250 room nights or more that will be confirmed prior to year-end.
ILM+E: With so many new hotels opened recently or coming soon, is the market saturated?
DY: We’ve actually seen 15 percent growth in inventory from June 2014 through June of this year, and that is certainly no small amount. That said, we are encouraged because in the first four months of 2018, we continued to see increases in overall hotel occupancy and RevPAR. So that’s promising, but I think at some point things will certainly level out.
ILM+E:Hyde Park now has its first boutique hotel. Will we see more boutique properties in other neighborhoods outside downtown?
DY: Yes. As long as our hotel community can continue to build creative, smart products, we will see growth. I think they will continue to be very competitive in this market.
ILM+E: How are boutique properties like Ace Hotel in the West Loop and Hotel Zachary in Wrigleyville faring compared to big-brand hotels?
DY: Our research department tracks hotels by class and geographic location and competitive markets. However, from the latest year-to-date performance, it appears boutique properties are performing really positively. Other segments are also performing well, so I think it’s pretty consistent.
ILM+E: How does Choose Chicago work with hotels to get heads in beds?
DY: We hold regular meetings and encourage open communication with our partners. Our team also holds strategy sessions with some of our larger properties with a lot more rooms to fill. My team is focused on groups and meetings that would fit in a hotel or multiple hotels. Sometimes it is challenging to get an optimal rate downtown for a program or it doesn’t seem like it’s a good fit for the group or meeting, so we might suggest one of our sister neighborhoods. We have partners outside the downtown area and make sure we’re in touch when we’re having those conversations.