The key driver behind the city's improved travel volume was overnight travel. Chicago welcomed a record 23.07 million overnight business and leisure travelers - an increase of 11.3% over 2010. Leisure travel fueled visitor growth with 31.8 million travelers - a 13.5% increase over 2010. Business travel to Chicago increased 5.1% to 10.58 million business travelers.
"This increase in visitors reflects what we already know - that Chicago is the most American of American cities, a place that attracts tourists and business visitors from around the globe to our world-class restaurants, outstanding museums, and vibrant and diverse neighborhoods," said Mayor Emanuel. "These visitors create many jobs for Chicagoans and contribute directly to the economic growth of our city. We welcome them and look forward to many more as we achieve our goal of 50 million visitors a year by 2020."
"Significant increases across all travel segments are extremely encouraging. In particular, the substantial gain in the overnight segment is paramount as it represents marked gains for jobs, direct spending and tax revenue to the city and state," said Don Welsh, Choose Chicago President and CEO. "While this is a solid beginning, there is much work to be done to ensure we achieve our vision of making Chicago the premier destination for leisure and business travelers."
Chicago's growth in domestic business and leisure visitors is nearly 50% more than the average overall visitation to the US. Total domestic business and leisure visitation to the US in 2011 was 3.07 billion - a 6.7% increase over 2010. Overnight business and leisure travel increased by 7.9% to 1.33 billion. Leisure travel grew to 2.57 billion - an increase of 7.5% while business travel grew by 2.8% to 4.98 billion.
"The team at Choose Chicago has been tasked with elevating the newly formed organization and at the same time sharpening Chicago's competitive edge, said Bruce Rauner, Choose Chicago Chairman. "It is clear that 2011 was the turning point and that we are well on our way to achieving Mayor Emanuel's vision for tourism as a driving force for Chicago's growth."
Chicago hotels benefited from the increase in visitors in 2011 with an overall occupancy of 72.1% -- a 3.4% change over 2010. Average daily rate (ADR) and revenue per available room (REvPAR) increased with percentage changes of 4.6% and 8.2% respectively. First quarter 2012 remained strong with an especially robust March delivering growth in occupancy, average daily rate and RevPAR. Occupancy showed a 3.7% change increase to reach 72.5%, while average daily rate rose to $160.77 with a 7.5% change and RevPar with an 11.4% change, increased to $116.56.
"As governor, I am committed to promoting all that our city and state have to offer, and making sure Chicago remains a global destination for both recreation and business," Governor Pat Quinn said. "Chicago is home to world-class restaurants, museums, galleries and so much more, and I am pleased that more visitors are discovering this great city. I look forward to continuing to welcome leaders and guests from all over the world."
Bold thinking and action has laid the groundwork for continued visitor growth. Chicago's new brand campaign, including regional advertising and reimagined marketing strategies to promote Chicago's iconic assets, including key festivals, is reshaping the image of the destination and delivering more visitors to ChooseChicago.com, the official tourism website. New bookings as a result of the historic McCormick Place labor reform are starting to accrue. A purposeful national and international public relations effort is garnering substantial media coverage and elevating Chicago's position as a leading global visitor destination. Global marketing and public relations offices are active in Canada, China, Mexico and the UK. Brazil, Germany and Japan will open prior to the end of 2012.
Chicago's visitor industry is an economic engine directly responsible for 124,000 jobs, $616 million in tax revenue and $11.1 billion in direct spending**. Projected at a rate of 50 million visitors annually, the direct impact could increase to 155,000-165,000 jobs, $1.2 - $1.3 billion per year in tax revenue and $14.7 billion in direct spending.
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** Based on 2010 visitor volume
Sources: D.K. Shifflet Associates, Ltd., Smith Travel Research, Choose Chicago