Taylor Swift's concert showed Chicago can host large events. But the city's tourism industry is still combatting negative images around public safety.
Thousands of fans flooded Chicago’s Soldier Field for three nights in June to see Taylor Swift perform “You Need to Calm Down” on her Eras Tour. The city was packed: There were also out-of-towners attending the James Beards Awards and the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting.
In all, about 45,000 people descended on Chi-town. For hotels, it was the best weekend in the city’s history, Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association President and CEO Michael Jacobson told ABC News. Occupancy hit 97 percent, according to Choose Chicago, the city’s destination marketing organization.
Upcoming events should keep demand strong: Chicago will be hosting NASCAR in July, Lollapalooza in August and the Democratic National Convention next year.
Despite the crowds this month, there were no major incidents downtown this month, a sign Chicago is well prepared to host large events, said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of Choose Chicago.
And yet the city – and its tourism industry – has had to confront very public instances of crime that make national headlines.
One weekend in April saw an outbreak of violence and a disorderly large gathering of hundreds of people around the popular tourist attraction Millennium Park. At least three teenagers were shot, police made over a dozen arrests and evacuated tourists.
In response, Osmond penned a letter reassuring industry partners that “steps are being taken to prevent further incidents” and that “along with many of our peer cities across the country, we continue to face very serious public safety challenges that must be addressed.” A key focus of the newly elected mayor Brandon Johnson is to improve safety.
Choose Chicago began investing $5.5 million earlier this year to drive tourists to South Side and West Side Chicago neighborhoods, areas that have been overlooked due to concerns over public safety.
Locals influencers are being hired to talk about their neighborhoods and favorite businesses. In neighborhoods like North Lawndale and Englewood, Choose Chicago is working with communities to help clean up streets and stations, improve street lighting and identify potential attractions to promote to tourists.
Chicago especially has been a “punching bag“ on this topic, said Osmond. “We’re doing as much as we can to change the narrative.”
Chicago’s needs out-of-towners in downtown more than ever. Around a fifth of offices there are vacant. Suburbanites aren’t hanging out as much as they did before the pandemic, said Osmond. “Tourists are vital to the economy right now,” she said.
Chicago welcomed 49 million visitors in 2022, 80 percent of its 2019 level. A full recovery isn’t expected until 2025.
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Photo credit: Chicago. Photo Credit: Max Bender on Unsplash Max Bender / Unsplash