Interview with Tim Roby: President of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau

Interview by Noah Graff

Today’s Machining World Archives June 2006 Volume 02 Issue 06

Tim Roby

Tim Roby is president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. Previously, he served in senior sales and marketing positions with Kerzner International Resorts Inc., MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Hyatt Hotels and Resorts.

What does your job entail?
My job is to bring conventions into McCormick Place, to the city of Chicago and help the city and the state’s tourism.

What has research shown about peoples’ likes and dislikes about tradeshows in Chicago?
As far as Chicago is concerned, it’s easy air access, there’s drivable parking. We have 15 percent of the country’s population within a 300 mile radius. You’ve got the cultural aspects of Chicago—the museums, the restaurants. We have some of the best restaurants in the world.

What has your research shown that people dislike in Chicago?
They don’t like coming to a tradeshow in January.

Why do you think Chicago has fallen behind Vegas and Orlando for attracting tradeshows?
As far as Las Vegas is concerned, it’s a capacity issue. Las Vegas has 130,000 rooms, we have 30,000. And the aggregate of Las Vegas, when you add the Venetian and the Mandalay Bay and all the other properties to all of their convention space – they have a bigger glass to fill. Therefore, supply and demand make hotels more attractive from a pricing standpoint, maybe. But if you compare apples to apples, we’re in line with them.

What do you plan to do to compete with them?
We’re not going to compete with them. We’re not Las Vegas. We don’t want to be Las Vegas.

Do you already have big plans for McCormick Place’s new addition?
Yes. And it’s much different than just building a large exhibit hall. This is actually a meeting space. It’s what we call a breakout space. It’s very flexible, so organizations that require a lot of smaller meetings in addition to a trade show are being very attracted to this space. You don’t see this type of meeting space in conjunction with exhibit space anywhere else in the country.

Are you worried about trade shows leaving Chicago?
I don’t know if worry is the word. We’re very competitive. We’re adding services and enhancing our attendance building projects, which we do for most of our major customers. No other city can offer that service, and we’ve got a whole team that reaches out and finds new customers for tradeshows, and that’s one of the reasons you see record attendance here. Some people within our industry say McCormick Place is their least favorite venue for tradeshows. They say it’s expensive. They’re disenchanted with things like the food, the walking, and the parking.

How do you plan to make IMTS and other tradeshows a better experience?
That’s a great question. And in fact, I just came from a 3-hour meeting in which we were talking to our customers, and they gave us both positive and helpful feedback. And those are areas from both a service issue and a product issue that we will continue to improve upon.

What do you see as the future for Chicago attracting more tradeshows like IMTS?
Based on our booking pace, our future is very bright. The numbers I’ve seen through 2012 – our pace is up. We’re even more focused on the consumer and the customer, helping them increase tradeshow traffic and net square footage. That’s what it’s all about for them. They want results. So that’s what we’re focused on.

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