CHICAGO (AP) -- First it was a plan to turn Chicagoans into tourists in their own city. Now, in its latest bid to attract visitors, the city is asking residents to show out-of-towners around.
On Friday, the city's tourism department kicked off "Chicago Greeter," a free service for visitors who want to see the city through the eyes of people who live in it.
These are people who know that you can't see everything from atop the Sears Tower, and that there's more to do than get the cook at the Billy Goat Tavern to say, "No fries, cheeps," for the millionth time.
Similar to New York's Big Apple Greeter and Australia's Melbourne Greeters, "Chicago Greeter" is previewing this month and then will start again in the spring, said Dorothy Coyle, the director of the city tourism office.
"I've heard of visitors here two or three days who don't get more than two blocks from their hotel," she said. "This is a way to get them to visit places they might otherwise not see."
"I want to give them more of a down-home tour," said Morene Dunn, one of about 75 volunteer greeters.
She promised two New Yorkers she had in tow they would go home with stories about how they put their hands inside the impressions of Michael Jordan's hands at a sporting goods store.
"Stuff they might not read about," she said.
That's what Denis Agostinetti was looking for in his visit from France. "I don't know about Chicago, anything of things except for what is in (tour) books," said Agostinetti.
Emilio Fonseca, a student from Spain, signed up to see where artists work and hang out. Normandie Hand planned to take him to the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods to visit small art galleries and "some of the edgier, trendier shops."
American and United airlines will help market the program and provide some of the greeters.
Since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, air travel has fallen off dramatically. That was behind the "Make It Chicago" program launched in September to lure area residents to the city's hotels, shows and restaurants.
With "Chicago Greeter," officials from both airlines acknowledged the time is right for a program designed to make vacationing a little less stressful.
"With people familiar with the city, who can make you feel at home, it (travel) is not such a scary thing," said United's Celene Peurye.
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