Stung by recent losses of major, leaders in Chicago have appointed a task force to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the way convention business is conducted in the city. The effort is aimed at making the city more competitive and maintaining its standing as a top convention destination.
"We are trying to turn lemons into lemonade—we get it, we understand our customers' concerns, and we are going to be aggressive in finding a solution together," said John Gates, chairman of the board at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, announcing the formation of the task force on November 18.
The task force's goal is to develop a new business model that will reduce costs while maintaining service levels. Members come from all corners of the convention industry, including MPEA, which runs McCormack Place; the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau; labor leaders; show contractors; and hospitality leaders, including restaurant and hotel workers. The governor's office, mayor's office, and the state legislature are also represented.
"We will look to revise our business model to determine how Chicago can be more competitive against other convention cities that have an advantage over us because their financial structure allows them to lower their cost and undercut Chicago pricing," said Juan Ochoa, chief executive officer at MPEA. "Unlike many of our competitors, no government dollars fund any aspect of our operating budget. We rely 100 percent on our show revenue to operate our convention space—which puts us at a disadvantage," he added in a press release.
In recent weeks, Chicago has lost business due to costs concerns, including the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society, which selected Las Vegas over Chicago for an upcoming meeting, citing higher labor costs in Chicago. Also in mid-November, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, announced that for the first time since 1971 it would not be returning to Chicago for its triennial International Plastics Showcase. Instead, SPI booked Orlando for its events in 2012 and 2015. SPI said the organization, its attendees, and exhibitors would save up an estimated total of $20 million on booths, labor and services, lodging, travel, and other costs by making the switch.