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Chicago hits new tourism record with 54.1M visitors in 2016

According to recent figures, visits, spending, and tourism-related jobs all grew last year

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons/Amber Disaster

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Choose Chicago announced yesterday that 2016 was another record year for tourism with 54.1 million visitors visiting the Windy City. The figure exceeds the previous record of 52.6 million visitors set the year prior. 2016’s influx of 1.5 million additional guests saw both tourism-supported jobs grow to 145,137 (up 3.3 percent) and direct tourism-related spending swell to $15 billion (an increase of 2.6 percent) in 2016. During the same time, Chicago welcomed 31 major conventions and meetings and opened eight new hotels in the Central Business District.

The news means the Windy City moves ever closer to Emanuel’s quest to attract 55 million annual visitors to Chicago by 2020—a goal set by the mayor in January of 2014 after 46 million tourists reportedly visited the city in 2013. When Emanuel first took office in 2011, the city was seeing roughly 40 million annual tourists. While domestic visitors were up 3.1 percent, 2016 saw a net drop in international tourism to Chicago, dipping 3.7 percent compared to the year prior.

City officials attributed the decline in visitors from Brazil and European countries such as the UK, France, Spain, and Germany to “economic uncertainty and unfavorable exchange rates” in their press release. Conversely, visitors from certain Asian markets saw notable gains. Guests from India, South Korea and China were respectively up 7.1 percent, 10.2 percent, and 22.7 percent.

Navy Pier’s opened its new Centennial Wheel with enclosed, climate controlled gondolas in 2016.
Image via Curbed Chicago Flickr Pool/Fred Faulkner

The figures from Choose Chicago come roughly two months after the Second City was voted—rather approriately—the nation’s number two city to visit by Condé Nast Traveler. A pair of Chicago hotels also topped the travel magazine’s list of best places to stay, with Chicago’s Virgin Hotel and The Thompson taking the first and second spots.

Last week, Chicago’s Navy Pier was revealed as the nation’s most visited tourist destination for users of Lyft. The distinction earned the lakefront attraction a so-called “Lyftie Award” from the popular ride-sharing service. Ongoing upgrades including a revamped entrance park, an elevated scenic overlook, and a new 240-key hotel are planned for the pier over the coming years.