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One of the most popular U.S. cities with Canadians has punched through the 55 million visitor barrier. And they did it a couple years ahead of schedule.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Choose Chicago have announced that visitors to the city in 2017 reached 55.2 million - a new record and 2.5 per cent increase over the previous year. The increase of 1.4 million reaches the Mayor's ambitious goal of 55 million visitors by the year 2020, a target he set in 2014.
"The combination of record-setting growth in leisure visitors accompanied by record-setting results from the major conventions that choose to meet here is an outstanding barometer for the overall success of Chicago as a thriving destination," said Choose Chicago President & CEO, David Whitaker, a former head of Tourism Toronto. "The impact of the visitor and meetings economy translates into increases in jobs, tax receipts from visitor spending as well as helping fuel the city's reputation as not only an amazing place to live, work and play - but also an amazing place to visit and invest in."
Last year marked another major increase in leisure visitors to the city as Chicago hotels reported an overall annual increase of 6.3 per cent. This increase of the leisure segment was particularly strong in the key summer months as hotels reported an increase of 7.4 per cent during the four-month period June through September - more than double the growth of the previous summer. Overall, Chicago hotel demand in terms of rooms occupied grew 3.3 per cent in 2017.
Another key segment generating overnight visitors is the important convention and meetings industry convening at massive, ever-expanding McCormick Place. Of the largest 40 conventions held, 21 achieved increased attendance over their prior year event including 10 that experienced all time attendance records. Seven of the 40 largest conventions broke previous records in terms of the sale of exhibit space - another encouraging industry trend.To build on that progress, the Global Business Travel Association has committed to hosting their Annual Convention in July of 2019, which is the world's largest business travel event. More than 7,000 business travel professionals from around the world will gather in Chicago at McCormick Square for state-of-the-art education, exclusive networking opportunities and news on the latest innovations in the industry.
The positive momentum being generated is also helping fuel industry growth as Chicago opened five new hotels in 2017 with another eight new hotels currently scheduled to open in 2018.
Chicago is an easy flight from several Canadian cities, with frequent service from Toronto on Air Canada and Porter Airlines and flights from several other Canadian destinations. Chicago attracted 444,000 Canadian visitors in 2016, the last year for which figures are available.
I was in Chicago last summer and took in a great kayak tour along the Chicago River, which is lined by some of the world's most brilliant architecture. I also did two food tours, including one that took visitors to some of the city's most iconic eating spots for Chicago deep dish pizza, Chicago-style beef hot dogs, hot Italian beef sandwiches and burgers at Billy Goat Tavern, made famous in the old Saturday Night Live "cheeburger, cheeburger" sketch.
I also took in a fantastic, educational and fun tour of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, and took some time to admire the city's waterfront, which is lined with kilometer after kilometer of park land and almost no development other than the popular Navy Pier entertainment centre.
Chicago has a number of top theatres and museums, including the marvellous Art Institute of Chicago. The hotels also are terrific, including the Four Seasons and the Intercontinental Magnificent Mile, an historic building in the centre of the action.
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