CHICAGO - It's getting easier to spot them on downtown Chicago streets. Tourists are back.
"People are traveling again all across the country and especially here in Chicago," said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Hospitality and business leaders gathered Wednesday in Chicago to say it's time to reignite travel, plus there are finally reasons for optimism at Chicago hotels.
"It was 78 percent hotel occupancy last week compared to 66 percent for that same week in 2019. That's the first time that's happened since the beginning of COVID-19," said Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association.
But Jacobson admits a recovery will take more than one strong summer.
Chicago hotels lost more than $5.4 billion in room revenue during the pandemic, while state and local tax revenue dropped more than a billion. Plus, nearby restaurants, retail and small businesses lost out, too.
"The success of the travel business is directly correlated to the success of the overall Chicago economy," said Jack Lavin, President and CEO, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
Now, business leaders are pushing for new incentives to lure more conventions back to McCormick Place. They're hopeful international travelers will increase, with COVID testing requirements dropped. Plus, they're working on crime downtown.
"The Chicago Police Department has been working hard to address the issue of crime and, in fact, Chicago and New York are the only two cities reversing the trend," said Glenn Eden, Board Chair, Choose Chicago.
Travelers coming to Chicago are changing a bit, too by combining business and leisure in one trip, into what's being called "bleisure."
"There's an expectation now that I can enjoy my time in the city and do the business I need to do," said Chip Rogers.
With the increase in travelers, hotels need to hire thousands, trying to lure workers with a starting salary of $23 an hour, plus benefits.