The total tax on hotel rooms in Chicago is 14.9 percent. The total tax on hotel rooms in Rosemont is 12 percent.

Michele McDonald, applications coordinator for Siemens Medical Systems, a medical device company based in Iselin, NJ, has been to the Greater Chicago area as both a meeting planner and an exhibitor. She planned a small meeting for about 25 specialists at the Sheraton Suites Hotel at O'Hare International Airport last June. "We chose the location because our attendees were coming from around the country and we wanted a central location with plenty of air service, so everyone could get there in a reasonable amount of time," she says.

For that particular event, her group did not get into downtown Chicago to sample any of the city's legendary dining spots or cultural attractions. But McDonald has been coming to Chicago for years as an exhibitor at the Radiological Society of North America's (RSNA) annual convention, and she has a few favorite haunts in the Windy City. One of them is the Kingston Mines blues club. "I love the city of Chicago. When we come for the RSNA meeting we usually stay at a hotel on Michigan Avenue, right in the heart of things," she says. One thing that could use some improvement, she notes, is the bus transportation to and from the McCormick Place complex. "At rush hour, a ten-minute trip can turn into a half hour or more," she says. "Otherwise, it is a great city, with lots of wonderful places for us to take clients."

"Personally, I savor Chicago extremely for business and for personal travel. It offers quite a bit--shopping, museums, theater," says Michelle Allen-Wilson, president of Hospitality Services, an independent meeting planning company in Douglasville, GA. Her most recent corporate meeting in Chicago was in the spring at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago. "When we go to Chicago, most of our meeting programs are done in the hotel, but we do use the Chicago Trolley for a tour of the downtown, the museum area, and Navy Pier. The trolley is staffed by wannabe actors who are both humorous and educational. Attendees can learn a lot in that 30-minute tour."

Allen-Wilson has taken trips on the Odyssey cruise ship "for a wonderful look at Chicago from the water." She has also used the Widow Newton restaurant on Navy Pier for events on a number of occasions and was happy with the results. Navy Pier itself scores big with Allen-Wilson. "Navy Pier has a wonderful atmosphere whether you're there day or night. And as a planner, I always look for venues with atmosphere, not just service or amenities."

Bliss Beasley is executive vice president of the American Exhibition Services (AES), based in Birmingham, AL. AES provides marketing services for some of the largest and most prestigious trade shows in North America, including the recent American Society of Association Executives' annual meeting in Chicago this July. Moreover, as a provider of marketing services to corporate exhibitors and tradeshow organizers, AES staff is intimately familiar with the country's major tradeshow venues, such as McCormick Place, where the ASAE meeting and exposition was held.

"McCormick Place is one of the country's very best facilities to work in," says Beasley, noting that the labor situation has really improved over the past two or three years. "There is a more relaxed attitude [among the building's union laborers], more of a willingness to work with exhibitors and show organizers," she says. The building's food service in the complex has been upgraded, and the new South Building, she says, is a beautiful architectural addition.

Moreover, with the new connecting concourse, two separate shows can go on simultaneously very easily in the North and South buildings, or the two buildings are easily combined for a one-level show, she points out. "And eventually there will be more development of restaurants and attractions around McCormick Place, especially now that there is a new hotel opening up adjacent to the complex."