Chicago tourism hit a record in 2016, despite a drop-off in visitors from Europe and other international locales.
New figures being released today by the city and Choose Chicago, the city’s promotion agency, indicate that an estimated 54.1 million out-of-towners visited Chicago last year. That’s a bump of 1.5 million people, or 2.9 percent, over the prior year and moves the city close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal: 55 million visitors.
In a statement, Emanuel and Choose Chicago CEO David Whitaker said they’re thrilled with the numbers, which have brought both an increase in tourism-related jobs (up 3.3 percent, to a total of 145,137) and direct spending (up 2.6 percent, to $15 billion) in 2016.
But the numbers were not as good in the lucrative international tourism category, in which each visitor tends to stay longer and spend more than US tourists.
Though the number of visitors from Asian markets, including China, India and South Korea, was up a solid 22.7 percent, 7.1 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively, tourism dropped from bigger European markets including the United Kingdom, down 18.3 percent; Germany, down 6.1 percent; and Spain, down 14.5 percent. Officials blamed “economic uncertainty and unfavorable exchange rates,” with international tourism down an estimated 3.7 percent, to 1.56 million.
Of total visitors, roughly four in five were here for pleasure, as tourists. The remainder were traveling on business, the city said.
Officials are hoping to get another pop this year: While 2016 was a cyclical down year for Chicago conventions, 2017 has more bookings. And while 31 major meetings and conventions were held here last year, 35 are planned in 2017.
That’s especially important to the hotel business. While overall visitation to the city was up 2.9 percent last year, the total number of daily rooms available rose even more, up 4.2 percent, to an average of 40,947. An additional 14 hotels are scheduled to open over the next two years, and either more visitors will take those rooms or occupancy rates will drop.
The city says tourism generated $911 million in tax revenue last year, up 2.2 percent.
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