Chicago tourism reaches record high in 2014


Colin King


By Associate Editor

Although Chicagoans are often annoyed with the enormous number of tourists wandering the already crowded streets, the city and its citizens benefit from an influx of visitors.

Welcoming an estimated 50.2 million guests, Chicago saw a record number of tourists in 2014. Chicago will reach Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of 55 million visitors in 2020 if the city continues to exceed record tourism rates, according to a Feb. 5 press release from the mayor’s office.

The number of visitors in 2014 is a 3.6 percent increase compared to 2013 and the tourism and lodging industry has added 9,800 jobs since 2010, which resulted in $13.7 billion in visitor spending and $871 million in total tax revenue, according to the press release.

Among the countless attractions in the city, the Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, houses more than 1,400 aquatic species and was the top-attended paid attraction in 2014, said Roger Germann, executive vice president of communications and public relations at the aquarium. He said although 2014 was not a record year for the aquarium, they welcomed more than 1.8 million guests. In previous years, he said the aquarium hit a record number of more than 2 million guests.

“The best way that we’re able to attract guests is through word of mouth,” Germann said. “[We] make sure those 2 million people who come through our doors have a wonderful, positive, educational and entertaining experience.”

Germann said the Shedd also seeks partnerships with other attractions in the city and with the city’s nonprofit tourism organization, Choose Chicago.

“[The Shedd] is in all of the Choose Chicago materials as part of one of those great destinations for folks to come to Chicago and visit,” Germann said. “Here at the Shedd, we team up with them for various tourism conferences and other types of outreach.”

Meghan Risch, vice president of corporate communications at Choose Chicago, declined to comment.

Although 2014 had a lower number of visitors than usual, Germann said he is planning for that number to return to 2 million in 2015.

However, the Skydeck in the Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Dr., reached a record number of guests in 2014, welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors, said Randy Stancik, Skydeck’s general manager. He said the Skydeck has seen gradual growth throughout the last seven years since the Willis Tower remodeled its Skydeck and added four glass balconies that overlook the city, which was an $8 million investment.

“We came up with the concept of not just the ledge, but to create a whole new visitor experience,” Stancik said. “The four glass balconies really give an experience that is hard to explain. My knees still buckle every time I go on it.”

Like the Shedd, the Skydeck also works closely with Choose Chicago to increase overall tourism in the city, Stancik said, adding that he anticipates the number of Skydeck visitors in 2015 to exceed 1.6 million.

“We’re doing an incredible job here promoting our products,” Stancik said. “We are always trying to find new products to put us out there to get the media’s attention, to get people to come. We’re proud of where we’re sitting.”

Rachel Cochrane, 25, took selfies in the reflection of the Bean at Millennium Park on Feb. 12 while vising the city from Omaha, Nebraska. 

She said this was her third time traveling to the city. She visits regularly because she has friends who live downtown. 

Aside from the Bean, Cochrane said she has visited the Shedd Aquarium, the Willis Tower and Navy Pier to get a full sense of what the city has to offer and what its most popular attractions are.

“I love the city,” Cochrane said. “Navy Pier is my favorite.”