Chicago growing as tourism destination


Sarah Impola

Chicago growing as tourism destination

By Metro Reporter

Chicago was named the second greatest city in the nation to visit by Conde Nast Traveler’s 29th annual Readers’ Choice Awards Oct. 17. 

The award followed an Oct. 9 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel that announced the city saw record tourism for the first three quarters of 2016. 

Overall tourism for the period of Jan. 1 through Sep. 30 increased 2.2 percent and grew by 6 percent in September alone, the press release stated.

This growth brings the city closer to its goal of hosting 55 million visitors annually by 2020, Emanuel said.

“These newest records show that our efforts are driving results and bringing  more people to Chicago to support economic opportunities in our neighborhoods,” Emanuel stated in the press release.

The Chicago Loop Alliance, an organization dedicated to attracting tourists to the downtown area, started tracking pedestrian traffic on State Street from Wacker Drive to Congress Parkway on Jan. 1., according to Michael Edwards, president and CEO of CLA. Edwards said that in an average week, 1.8 million–2.2 million people walk on State Street.

“There’s a resurgence in downtowns around the world,” Edwards said. “Millennials love downtown. They all watched ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ growing up, and all of a sudden, downtowns are kind of cool places.”

Dominic Pacyga, a professor in the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department and Chicago history expert, said while these are probably the biggest tourism numbers Chicago has ever seen, the city has always been popular.

“Chicago’s always been an attraction,” Pacyga said. “In the 19th century, 500,000 people a year toured the Chicago stockyards and packing houses to see the slaughter of hogs and cattle.”

Brian Barker, a professor at DePaul University who teaches a global tourism course, said he thinks the reason for the surge in tourism is increased marketing to international tourists and  the appeal of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods for those wanting to “go off the beaten path.”

“I think we will continue to see a growth because, through mediums like social media—Facebook and Instagram—all our friends are posting pictures of places [they] have been, and that serves our desire to want to go and see and explore new places,” Barker said.

Barker added that while the Loop is still the city’s peak tourism neighborhood, he’s noticed that Choose Chicago, the city’s marketing organization, has been advertising other neighborhoods more heavily, such as Chinatown and Edgewater.

“There’s work to be done [on the South and West sides], but I think we are starting to see a change in that environment,” Barker said. “There’s a huge surge in hotels, and that is going to create job opportunities for some of those disenfranchised communities, [and] as those populations begin to gain employment, they can become vital contributors to their own communities.” 

Choose Chicago could not be reached as of press time. 

Edwards pointed out that the city’s focus on tourism is beneficial for Chicago residents as well.

“As someone who lives in Chicago, I get to take advantage of all those tours and amenities, too,” Edwards said. “It’s a good time to be in Chicago; that’s for sure.”