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More tourists visited Chicago than ever in 2018

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2 million additional visitors set a record last year

In 2018 the city saw 57.6 million visitors, up from 55.2 million in 2017. Just as in previous years, the mayor is pleased and the city expects tourism numbers to keep growing. Could the bigger numbers have to do with Condé Nast Traveler ranking Chicago as the best big city for the second year in a row? Perhaps that put us on a few more radars.

“When it comes to attracting tourists and business travelers, Chicago can go toe-to-toe with any city in the world,” Mayor Emanuel said.

McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, gives tourism numbers a huge boost. The first major convention there in 2019 hosted soccer coaches and youth players, a gathering with 20,000 people over five days.

Out of the 50 largest events at the center last year, 20 of them broke attendance or exhibitor records. Final numbers are still being calculated, according to McCormick Place, but it’s estimated that events increased by 31 percent since 2017 with 3 million visitors. At least 59 major conventions committed to Chicago along with an additional 2,301 meetings, according to the mayor’s office.

In addition to conventions and meetings, Chicago is also home to quite a lot of music festivals such as Lollapalooza, Chicago Jazz Festival, Riot Fest, and more.

Seven hotels opened last year and the overall annual occupancy rate increased to 75.4 percent this year. Hotel rooms booked increased by 4.3 percent allowing a room-rate increase of 4.6 percent. City hotel taxes generated $140 million in revenue resulting in $11.7 million for city services.

While hotels were successful, employees demanded better. Workers from 26 downtown hotels went on the largest strike in the city’s recent history to demand better health insurance. After more than a month, most workers had ratified contracts that included year-round health insurance.

More international travelers came to the city in 2018, according to Airline Passenger Information System (APIS) data collected from arriving nonstop international flights to Chicago. Visitors with passports from Brazil jumped 16.2 percent, United Kingdom was up 14.1 percent, Italy grew 10.9 percent, and South Korea increased by 9.2 percent.

It’s looking like international travel could expand further with the new O’Hare Global Terminal and plans to update the airport. While the massive terminal won’t be finished until 2028, the changes will alter “the trajectory of O’Hare forever,” Mayor Emanuel said in previous statements about the project.