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How We Are Developing Growth Markets for Illinois Office of Tourism

Illinois has traditionally pulled visitors largely from in state and bordering states. Chicago has the ability to pull from national fly markets, but this decreased during COVID when both business and leisure air travel plummeted. Post-COVID travel offered the opportunity to expand prospecting efforts to encourage ‘new’ travel from first time or lapsed visitors.

The use of EDA grant funds allowed for a test of two new fly markets without cannibalizing current efficiencies.


Photo of digital billboard
Airplane photo
Airplane photo

Current origin market hotel revenue was evaluated to create a short list of propensed travel. Markets already generating hotel revenue without the benefit of media dollars were considered. Other criteria included media costs, DEI composition, and proximity of competitive markets. The markets chosen were San Francisco and Atlanta.

While regional markets received messaging to promote travel throughout the state of Illinois, these new fly markets were being served Chicago specific creative. Chicago offers a unique and recognizable draw on a national level.

These markets received the same full funnel of media as the regional markets – including TV, OTT, audio, digital and social. OOH ads ran in both markets in large transportation hubs to target both locals, tourists and business travelers.

The goal was to test lift of new markets when ad dollars were placed at similar levels to current markets. We were unsure how quickly we would see lift in hotel bookings vs. early interest demonstrated by site visits, social engagements, etc.


Hotel Revenue
Arrival lift

Hotel revenue for San Francisco and Atlanta increased by 147% and 286% respectively from 2019 (pre-COVID to 2022). Note that these markets greatly outpaced current regional markets. Arrival lift (comparison of arrival rate of exposed to unexposed travelers) was 300% (SF) and 150% (ATL). Again, outpacing other origin markets.

This test successfully determined that new markets are receptive to messaging and will generate ROI. Monitoring growth will be important to determine when it levels out and when efficiencies grow.