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Front Desk

Vegas rises, Chicago fades

For decades, Chicago was the premiere convention city in the U.S. Everybody in the city's tourism business—from cab drivers to doormen to restaurateurs—worked in unison to cater to the whims of the millions of free-spending conventioneers who visited the city each year. I got to see this spirit of hospitality at close hand for the many years I attended the National Restaurant Show each May.

Word came last week, however, that Chicago has slipped into third place in the number of large conventions and trade shows it hosts each year. In 2005, Las Vegas was the site of 44 of the 200 largest trade shows. Second-place Orlando was home to 26 shows, while Chicago hosted 20.

It's been 12 years since Las Vegas overtook Chicago as the king of convention cities, but '05 was the first time the home of Mickey Mouse beat out Chicago for second place.

While the news is a blow to Chicago's civic pride, it's not the end of the world for the city and its hotel industry. Unlike Las Vegas and Orlando, Chicago is much more than a tourism town. It's home to scores of major corporations, associations and other businesses that generate a lot of annual roomnights—and during all seasons. Its central location also makes Chicago an attractive venue of thousands of meetings and trade shows that aren't among the 200 largest. And, of course, the city is an attractive tourism destination, particularly for much-coveted weekend business.

Losing its crown as the convention king is a bummer, but it's not Chicago's biggest short-term worry. That's the looming labor unrest the city's hotel industry faces this summer.

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