For the fifth year in a row, Chicago was ranked the No. 1 big city in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler for its vibrant restaurant scene, museums and architecture.
Condé Nast Traveler surveyed more than 800,000 readers on which cities they loved visiting most. Chicago was followed by New York, No. 2; New Orleans, No. 3; and Boston, No. 4.
“These rankings really help us,” said Glenn Eden, the chair of the board for Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm. “This is a word-of-mouth business. When someone says ‘Hey, I like this city or that island,’ people tend to go.”
Condé Nast Traveler also published a list of the top hotels in Chicago, which named The Gwen, a luxury Collection Hotel on Michigan Avenue No. 1. It was followed by Hotel Julian at No. 2 and the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel in the Loop at No. 3, as well as Nobu Hotel Chicago in Fulton Market at No. 4.
While tourism and business travel has been stronger in 2021 than the previous year, the COVID-19 pandemic is still costing Chicago’s hospitality sector. The American Hotel & Lodging Association projects that the pandemic will cost Chicago-area hotels $2.2 billion in lost revenue from business travel this year.
Data from Choose Chicago shows tourism began to rebound in the first half of 2021. Hotel room revenue in Chicago was close to $400 million, which provided more than $69 million in taxes to the city and state. Summer hotel occupancy reached 57% in July, the best occupancy rate since February 2020. Weekend hotel room demand was especially high, at 85% occupancy the weekend of Lollapalooza, according to the data.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day, we saw some pretty impressive rebounds and some promising numbers,” Eden said.
While more tourists are expected to visit Chicago this winter than last, COVID-19 could continue to keep people at home if cases rise, which is more common in the winter. But with more businesses and attractions open this winter, like indoor dining at restaurants, the theatre scene and museums, Eden says Chicago could attract tourists regardless.
“Based on the momentum that we’re seeing right now, we’ll fare off a little bit better than we saw earlier this year,” Eden said. “We’re really going to double down on what we have to offer, from the culinary tourism side and our cultural and art tourism side as well.”
Choose Chicago, which has undergone COVID-19 challenges of its own, launched a new artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, called The Bean. The online portal allows visitors to ask questions and receive immediate answers on where to eat, stay and sightsee in Chicago.
“The city’s winning streak is no fluke—Chicago has been and will continue to be a global gateway for tourism in Illinois,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker in a statement. “As we rebuild and recover post-pandemic, my administration is committed to supporting tourism workers and tourism businesses with the resources needed to keep visitors coming back year after year.”
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