Tourism leaders cite need for more business travel

Hotel industry officials and others say the trends in Chicago are positive despite increases in crime during the pandemic.

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Choose Chicago Board Chair Glenn Eden on Wednesday discussed reigniting travel to the Chicago area.

Choose Chicago chairman Glenn Eden on Wednesday discussed reigniting travel to the Chicago area.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

In June, Chicago tourism leaders celebrated the city’s comeback in the travel market, saying activity was halfway back to pre-pandemic normal. Wednesday, tourism groups emphasized that there’s still ground to make up.

Leaders of the hotel industry joined with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Choose Chicago promotional group to urge businesses to increase their travel plans. The American Hotel & Lodging Association cited a survey it commissioned that found 77% of business travelers want to be on the road more and that nearly two-thirds reported a loss of productivity due to mostly remote work.

The executives cited increases in convention attendance, hotel occupancies and other benchmarks. But one speaker at the news conference directly addressed a problem cited as impeding that rebound: the growth of crime, especially in downtown and River North areas that tourists frequent.

“All indicators point to the road to recovery,” said Glenn Eden, chairman of Choose Chicago. Crime has worsened during the pandemic, but it’s not a problem unique to Chicago, he said.

Eden cited FBI data that show Detroit, St. Louis, Louisville and Memphis are among the cities that have higher rates of violent crime. He said Chicago and New York are the only major cities seeing recent progress in curbing crime.

“We cannot let crime overshadow what we have achieved. Travel and tourism are here to stay,” Eden said. Several large conventions have returned to Chicago and pedestrian counts in the Loop are rising steadily, he said.

Businesses have taken their own steps to improve security. The Chicago Loop Alliance, representing business owners, has funded private security and expanded an “ambassador” program of greeters in yellow and black uniforms to welcome visitors and commuters, and to provide information.

The faster travel rebounds, the faster Chicago’s economy will accelerate, said Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Rogers said studies show that for every $100 spent on hotel stays, another $222 is spent on other local businesses.

In June, Choose Chicago said the city had 30.7 million domestic and international visitors in 2021, an 86% increase from 2020. But the 2021 total is still half what Chicago was seeing before the pandemic.

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