Chicago kicks off national travel week as tourism booms

Rose Zhou/MEDILL

Boston resident Tzu-Ling Liu was walking among Chicagoans and tourists at the Millennium Park Water Wall Thursday afternoon, enjoying a vacation from her job at Northeastern University, but lamenting the chilly damp weather.

“This is my first day in Chicago,” said Liu. “It’s a great city, and I’m excited to see it for myself.” But she hopes to return for a visit when the weather is warmer.

Nearly 47 million domestic visitors like Liu traveled to Chicago in 2013, a record high, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday. The mayor has set a goal of attracting 55 million tourists by 2020.

“Our new tourism strategy is reaping significant dividends in new jobs and economic activity,” Mayor Emanuel said.

Overseas tourism is also expected to have increased last year to more than 1.4 million visitors from 1.37 million visitors in 2012. Those figures will be released later this year.

As the city kicks off National Travel and Tourism Week, hopes are high that Chicago will see even greater numbers of tourists this spring and summer, worth upwards of $1 billion to the local economy, travel industry experts predicted during last month’s annual international travel show IPW.

The IPW last month in Chicago that hosted travel industry executives from around the world, and Millennium Park’s 10th anniversary celebration, both are expected to raise Chicago’s profile as a vacation destination.

Chicago’s tourism marketing organization, Choose Chicago, and the Illinois Office of Tourism joined with Explore St. Louis at the Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals game at Wrigley Field to encourage travel between the two cities.

Don Welsh, Choose Chicago president and CEO, said such targeted regional, national and international strategies have helped boost Chicago tourism. But there is room for even more growth.

A survey of nearly 1,000 employees of U.S. firms last fall conducted for the U.S. Travel Association, found that while three-quarters of Americans earned paid time off, many did not use all of the time they earned.

American workers passed up an estimated 429 million vacation and personal days in 2013 that, if taken, would result in an additional $160 billion dollars in economic activity.

The research cited factors such as heavy workload, economic pressures and needs of the employer as the reasons why Americans don’t spend enough time smelling the flowers.

“We will continue to invest in neighborhood tourism strategies, new iconic investments, and an enhanced global marketing campaign to continue to lure more tourists to spend time in the most American of American cities” Mayor Emanuel said.


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