June 16, 2022

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Alexis Merz
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Chicago records 86% increase in tourism in 2021 compared to 2020
Popular TikToker Dilla the Urban Historian honored with 2022 Tourism Ambassador Award

CHICAGO — Choose Chicago hosted its 2022 Annual Meeting of Partnership, during which the agency announced a new marketing campaign and the 2021 tourism performance data on June 15. Despite the challenges posed by travel restrictions and COVID-19 safety measures, Chicago hosted 30.7 million domestic and international visitors in 2021 an 86% increase over 2020.

“The Choose Chicago Annual Meeting is an important event to mark the incredible progress we have made in the past year and preview the exciting things in store for the year to come,” said Choose Chicago CEO Lynn Osmond. “The momentum going into 2022 is amazing. For example, when we compared hotel occupancy between the first week of June this year, to last year, it is nearly 45% higher … the impact of being open for business is clear.”

Additionally, tourism-related employment has returned to 60% of pre-pandemic levels and last year generated $1.3 billion in tourism tax revenue. Local hotel tax revenue reached $127.2 million, a 163% increase over 2020, and the average occupancy rate was 43%, a 63% increase over 2020.

Osmond continued, “Chicago is a world-class destination for a reason: because of the people who proudly represent our city and invite others to experience it. I am so proud of everyone who has come together to ensure Chicago comes back from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before and continues to bolster its reputation across the country and world.”

During the meeting, which was hosted at the Skyline Ballroom in the McCormick Place west building, Choose Chicago announced a new marketing campaign, When You Go You Know, to promote the city as a tourist destination. Like the successful “Welcome Home” marketing campaign, which launched in 2017, When You Go You Know will tell Chicago’s story while elevating everything the city has to offer visitors.

The Annual Meeting featured an African interpretative dance performance from Chicago-based Muntu Dance Theatre, a performance from singer Liv Warfield, who has performed with Prince and Teatro ZinZanni, and remarks from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

Choose Chicago also honored Shermann Thomas, better known as Dilla the Urban Historian, with its 2022 Tourism Ambassador award. This award recognizes people who make a difference in telling Chicago’s story.

Dilla uses TikTok to elevate Chicago history to his nearly 90,000 followers. His bite-size history lessons cover topics ranging from the stories behind individual neighborhoods or parks to Italian beef sandwiches and deep dish pizza. His videos have garnered more than 935,000 likes on TikTok, and numerous media outlets have featured him.

Four highly accomplished students have also been selected to receive the Choose Chicago Future Leader Award, a merit-based scholarship recognizing students who demonstrate their commitment to and passion for the hospitality and tourism industries. Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic record; professional, internship and volunteer experience; educational and/or professional recommendations; and a personal essay.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Jessenia Prado, sophomore art major at St. Olaf College
  • Zachary Schwab, senior business management major at Loyal University Chicago
  • Cassie Mancera, graduate hospitality leadership major at DePaul University
  • Gigi Liang, graduate hospitality and operations management major at DePaul University

Additionally, Choose Chicago was pleased to announce its 2023 Board of Directors, welcoming six new members who will each serve three-year terms:

  • Kenneth Meyer, Commissioner of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection, City of Chicago
  • Erin Harkey, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, City of Chicago
  • Alderman Jason Ervin, 28 Ward Alderman, City Council
  • Doreen Burse, Senior Vice President Worldwide Sales, United Airlines
  • Rich Ashlin, Vice President O’Hare HUB Operations, American Airlines
  • Patrick Kelly, President, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399

“I congratulate our new board members, and I look forward to working with them over the coming years,” said Glenn Eden, Choose Chicago Board chair. “I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to our retiring board members. You have all done tremendous work in advancing Choose Chicago’s important work.”

Choose Chicago anticipates a successful 2022 and beyond. McCormick Place is conservatively estimated to host 183 events this year, attracting 1.5 million visitors and generating $1.8 billion in economic impact. The city’s hotel inventory is projected to expend by 1,338 additional daily rooms by the end of 2023, and international visitation is on track to return to pre-COVID levels by 2024.


About Choose Chicago

Choose Chicago is the official sales and marketing organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a global visitor and meetings destination, leveraging the city’s unmatched assets to ensure the economic vitality of the city and its member business community. For more information, visit and follow @choosechicago on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. #ChicaGOandKNOW