Chicago enjoyed more visitors from around the country in 2015 than in any year before, according to new numbers released by the city.
Domestic visitation to the city totaled 50.97 million people last year, a 4.5 percent jump over 2014’s record performance and the first time that the city hosted more than 50 million domestic tourists.
The official number from McLean, Va.-based tourism research firm DK Shifflet & Associates, which beat the city’s forecast from late last year of 50.38 million visitors, marks the fourth consecutive year that domestic tourism to the city has risen. DK Shifflet is the data provider for the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office.
It also means Chicago likely surpassed 52 million visitors overall, based on an international visitation forecast of 1.3 million foreign visitors from city tourism bureau Choose Chicago.
Tourism from domestic travelers has now increased by 20 percent since 2011.
Leisure visitation to the city, which makes up the bulk of the tourist figure, rose by 4.5 percent to 39.3 million last year.
Business travelers, meanwhile, increased at a faster clip. That number jumped by 5.1 percent to 11.65 million, padded by strong numbers from the convention and meetings industry. The McCormick Place convention center saw a 4 percent attendance increase in 2015, its highest mark since 2004.
HOTEL RECORDS, TOO
The strong tourism numbers translated into a record year for downtown Chicago hotels.
Despite adding 2,200 new hotel rooms—a 5.6 percent jump from the year before—Chicago’s central business district posted an average daily room rate of $206.30, a 5.3 percent increase year-over-year and the highest on record, according to hotel research firm STR.
Revenue per available room, a key measure of hotel room demand, also increased by 5.7 percent to $156.54.
The result: the city of Chicago pulled in $124.1 million in hotel tax revenue.
The 2015 records keep Chicago on track to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of attracting 55 million visitors to the city by 2020. But 2016 could be a setback year.
Fewer major trade shows are coming to the city this year—a casualty of the city not landing the 2016 Olympic Games and a slowdown in long-term bookings during the Great Recession.
Choose Chicago also had its funding decimated during the second half of 2015 as a result of the state’s ongoing budget impasse. Fallout from those cutbacks in resources could manifest itself in the 2016 tourism numbers.
In the meantime, Choose Chicago is also looking for a new CEO to replace Don Welsh, who resigned from his position in March after a five-year run.