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Illinois Making Pitch for Foreign Tourists’ Dollars

April 30, 1988

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ Illinois is taking its juiced-up tourism campaign overseas to dispel a gangster-ridden image and lure foreign visitors.

″International people still think of us as ‘Al Capone lives next door,’ and this is one of the things we have to dispel in their minds,″ said Mary Burns, international marketing specialist for the Illinois Office of Tourism.

To do that, the state and Trans World Airlines have produced an upbeat commercial for British television that describes Chicago as a world-class city with a rich culture and nightlife.

Tour brochures circulated by British Airways in West Germany describe Chicago as ″the heart and soul of the Americas.″ They feature inviting views of the city’s lakefront and historic sites in other parts of Illinois.

″Chicago and Illinois are described in detail to get rid of this Al Capone image that still prevails,″ said Lothar Kegelmann, market development manager in West Germany for British Airways.

The international effort is the latest twist in a four-year campaign that officials credit for significant growth in the state’s tourist industry.

Since 1984, the state Office of Tourism has spent $10 million a year on ads promoting tourism, up from about $800,000 in earlier years.

From 1984 to 1986, the number of employees in the state’s tourism industry increased 14 percent compared with a rise of 9 percent in the nation overall. Tourist spending in Illinois in the fiscal year ending June 30 is expected to reach $10.8 billion, up 30 percent from $8.3 billion three years ago, state officials say.

Officials hope to boost those figures further and say foreign tourists are a rich, untapped market, especially in light of the dollar’s low value compared with many foreign currencies. They have pursued a variety of strategies to lure foreigners, some costly and some virtually free.

To pay for the British commercials, Illinois and TWA each contributed $200,000 and the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration kicked in $40,000.

Those commercials attracted the interest of British television executives, who plan to produce a documentary on Chicago comparing the Windy City to Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

In the past year, state tourism officials also have helped organize visits by 18 groups of foreign travel agents and tour operators, and six groups of travel journalists. Ms. Burns said the trips were paid for by airline companies, hotels and others in the industry.

State officials don’t expect immediate dividends from the overseas campaign. Their advisers say it typically takes five years to produce a significant response.

″Don’t expect miracles and don’t ask for passenger numbers within the next couple months,″ Kegelmann said. ″It takes time and a little bit of patience, but we are confident we are going to make it.″

One expert believes Illinois might get a little help from the Capone legacy.

″I can understand why (Illinoisans) are sensitive about Al Capone and the so-called violent image of Chicago but I think it has changed over the years to become a colorful image,″ said John Cooper, director of marketing for TWA’s international division.

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