Last week, more than 6,000 people from 70 different countries descended on Chicago. The draw was IPW 2014, a conference put on by the U.S. Travel Association where people buy travel packages to destinations around the world.
Chicago last played host to the conference 16 years ago.
A lot can happen and change in 16 years – especially for an evolving, dynamic city like Chicago.
As a Chicago-gal, I know I’m a bit biased when it comes to my hometown. But, I’m sure others would agree the city has aged well over the past 16 years. And, it keeps getting better.
It offers a wealth of amazing, world-renowned attractions, events, arts, culture and restaurants for residents and tourists alike. And, it always greets visitors with open arms.
That’s the Midwestern spirit, the Midwestern warmth and the Midwestern hospitality. You can feel it in the heartbeat of the city and the energy of the people. It’s refreshing, it’s welcoming, and it’s contagious.
That’s why I gladly offered to volunteer as an ambassador for IPW.
As an ambassador, our main job was to be "cheerleaders" for Chicago. And, we were out to do that 600 strong.
Stationed at O’Hare International Airport, McCormick Place, hotels across the city, and other venues, we greeted our international guests, provided helpful guidance on navigating the city and the conference, and shared our personal insights into the city we all call home.
I volunteered as a greeter at the Conrad Hotel for two days during IPW. From a table in the lobby, myself and two other ambassadors directed guests onto the shuttles to McCormick Place, shared details on the planned sightseeing tours, and answered questions about Chicago,
Some of my favorite moments were when I was able to suggest where a guest should spend a free afternoon sightseeing downtown, the best spots to do some serious shopping, and the top 5 must-see sites in Chicago. I also put my city know-how to the test in answering questions about the best way to get to O’Hare International Airport during rush hour and the best places to go see live music.
I also cherished conversations with visitors who shared personal stories of their own favorite things to do in Chicago.
I had the privilege of speaking with guests from Germany, Austria, India and Switzerland about Chicago - over two days alone.
But, not every interaction was about giving advice. Often, it was just to make a connection, to share a smile and to say good morning – something I know can go a long way, too.
The connections didn’t stop there.
During each shift, I got to meet other Chicago “cheerleaders” from all over the city and suburbs. We got to exchange stories, perspectives and ideas. I could tell my fellow volunteers also love the city we call home – and their enthusiasm was contagious.
To my surprise, my two volunteer shifts during IPW helped me appreciate Chicago even more.
I reveled in the joy the city brought to travelers from all of the world, and I took pride in knowing that so many other Chicagoans were proud to share their love of the city with others, too.
Every interaction was inspiring. Each conversation was a delight. And, each smile made my day.
I was proud to be a cheerleader then – and I feel fortunate to continue to share the wonders of Chicago each and every day right here.
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