Microsoft canceling conference a ‘significant loss’ for Chicago in 2016 – Chicago Tribune

In a major blow to Chicago’s technology community and tourism industry, Microsoft has canceled its Ignite conference for 2016, with plans to move it to another city.

A corporate travel partner for Microsoft sent notice to participating Chicago hotels Tuesday night, informing them of the decision and requesting that the rooms booked for the May event be released.

The notification from Experient, obtained by the Tribune, said the Microsoft Ignite 2016 event is moving to “a different location,” with Microsoft planning to make a formal announcement before the end of October. It also said the decision was based solely on event timing.

The loss of the conference, which was scheduled for May 9-13 at McCormick Place, will affect more than 50 hotels and cost the city about 90,000 room nights, sources said.

Microsoft Ignite made its debut at McCormick Place in May, with a weeklong event showcasing its products to information technology professionals. The inaugural conference drew more than 20,000 attendees, officials said. The return engagement was on the books for 2016, but sources said Microsoft wanted to reschedule for later in the year, when McCormick Place was unavailable.

Reached by email late Tuesday, a Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

Chicago’s tourism industry was already facing a challenging 2016, with 200,000 fewer convention room nights on the books than last year, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism arm. With the loss of Microsoft Ignite, the deficit will be closer to 300,000 fewer room nights.

In an email to hoteliers Wednesday morning, Don Welsh, president of Choose Chicago, expressed his disappointment over the software giant’s decision.

“While this is a significant loss for the first half of 2016, I want to assure you that this action taken by Microsoft is purely the result of industry buying cycles,” Welsh said in the email. “The customer requested fall dates to better align with those cycles; however, McCormick Place did not have space available.”

Choose Chicago is under financial pressure, with $7.2 million of its funding frozen by the state’s ongoing budget stalemate. Last week, the agency announced it would eliminate 28 positions, representing one-fourth of its workforce, and close two international offices, with more potential downsizing ahead, officials said.

rchannick@tribpub.com

Twitter @RobertChannick

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