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Chicago sees record tourism numbers in first half of 2023, but slower years ahead

With Lollapalooza one day away, Chiacgo enjoying banner year for visitors
With Lollapalooza one day away, Chiacgo enjoying banner year for visitors 03:28

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Lollapalooza returns to Grant Park on Thursday, and as music fans flock to Chicago, the city is already having a banner year for visitors, but a slight slowdown might soon be coming.

NASCAR, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and small armies of conventioneers that are back have helped Chicago shine in a post-COVID spotlight.

Like a mega-watt musician, Chicago is topping the charts this summer, with the city ranking the #1 American city for meetings and events volume for the months of April, May, and June, according to hospitality industry tracker Knowland.

"So that means we're beating Las Vegas, Orlando, all our major competitors; and that's just really encouraging," said Lynn Osmond, president of Choose Chicago, the city's tourism agency.

From January to June, hotel revenue in Chicago hit $1.12 billion, up 24% from last year, and 102% from pre-pandemic 2019, setting a new record for the city.

Over that period, Chicago's hotel tax generated $62 million in revenue, also a record breaker.

But the artists who sell records aren't the only ones fueling this surge in visitors. At the same time Swifties were jamming at Solider Field, approximately 44,000 oncologists were in Chicago for an annual conference at McCormick Place.

"So it was pretty interesting seeing the Swifties and the oncologists mix around Soldier Field or throughout the city," Osmond said.

And this is before Lollapalooza begins the first festival of a new 10-year commitment to Chicago.

"The cumulative effect is over $2 billion in economic activity, based just on Lollapalooza being in Chicago," said Matt Patton, Ph.D., executive vice president of Angelou Economics.

Patton studied Lollapalooza's impact on Chicago over the last 12 years.

"Over that same period of time, we looked at over 22,000 jobs being created or supported because of Lollapalooza," he said.

But for a city firing on all entertainment cylinders, expect a gear shift and a slower few years ahead.

Since Illinois was largely shut down during COVID, while other states remained open, some conferences looking to secure 2025 and 2026 venues passed on Chicago.

"In Chicago, we'll see a few softer years coming up ahead in 2025-26, because we were closed and didn't have staff when other states like Las Vegas and Florida were still open and selling," Osmond said

Will NASCAR come back to Chicago next year for a second run of its first-ever street race?

The city and NASCAR have a contract to bring the race back to Grant Park next year, but both sides have the option to terminate the agreement within 180 days after the end of this year's race. Mayor Brandon Johnson, who inherited the NASCAR deal from predecessor Lori Lightfoot, has said he will evaluate the impact of the event, and on Wednesday said he has yet to make a decision on the future of NASCAR in Chicago.

As for Lollapalooza, where 15,000 more people are expected this year than last, stages are being set, and many street closures have begun in and around the South Loop, with 115,000 people expected for each day of the festival Thursday through Sunday.

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