Visitors to Chicago rose 60% in 2022, tourism group says

Choose Chicago said that with high-profile events coming this summer, the city’s comeback from pandemic shutdowns remains on track.

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View of downtown Chicago skyline from a Near South Side rooftop.

The downtown skyline as seen from a Near South Side rooftop in 2022. The city had nearly 48.9 million visitors in 2022, 60% more than the prior year.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With the summer travel season officially underway, Chicago’s tourism promoters said Thursday that the city is continuing its rebound in visitor spending and visitation compared with pandemic lows.

Choose Chicago said nearly 48.9 million domestic and overseas visitors hit the town in 2022, an amount 60% higher than in 2021. The total is about 80% of the nearly 61 million visitors the agency tabulated for 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

It also said Chicago visitors spent nearly $17 billion in 2022, 89% of the level in 2019.

Choose Chicago released its new tourism report at the group’s annual meeting.

Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of Choose Chicago, said the outlook is good for an ongoing surge in tourism, noting high-profile events such as this weekend’s Taylor Swift concerts and the NASCAR “street race” July 1-2. Her agency is aiming for a visitor census of about 54 million this year.

Osmond said she spoke with NBC Sports about its plans for the NASCAR telecast. “It will be a lovefest for Chicago. They are beyond thrilled with the beauty of this city,” she said.

The visitor rebound shows up both in the leisure market and in conventions and is not being deterred by an increase in crime downtown, Osmond said.

“Every urban center is having this discussion” about crime, said Osmond, who has compared notes with tourism executives in other cities. “It’s something that’s an American challenge.”

“Ambassador” programs for tourists and local visitors are helping people feel safe, Osmond said. The programs are offered by the Magnificent Mile Association and the Chicago Loop Alliance, the main downtown business groups.

Visitation is driving a healthy market for hotel rooms that could discourage budget-conscious travelers. The average daily room rate in 2022 was $228.85, higher than the 2019 figure of $205.97, Choose Chicago said.

For 2023 through April, hotel usage is up 17% compared with the same period last year.

One of Chicago’s selling points for conventions, and a factor that helped the city land the 2024 Democratic convention, is the abundance of hotel rooms. Choose Chicago said the central business district now has 152 hotels comprising nearly 46,000 rooms, numbers that are records.

There were 1,510 events booked in Chicago in 2022, most of them new to the market and expected to return within the next five years, Choose Chicago said.

The tourism report contrasts with the difficulties downtown is seeing as businesses adjust to work-from-home schedules and trim their office space. City officials are offering developers incentives to convert offices into residences, which they hope will help restaurants and stores downtown.

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