Chicago becoming major hotspot for tourists

Hotels are popping up all over Chicago.

One of the premier destinations in the Midwest is making waves in its tourism sector.

Chicago, the third-largest market in the U.S., pulled in a record $12.76 billion on travel expenditures last year, according to fresh data from U.S. Travel Association. That figure is a 6.7 percent increase from the year prior.

"The mayor (Rahm Emanuel) has made tourism a priority," Donald Welsh, the chief executive of the city's tourism and convention bureau, Choose Chicago, told The New York Times.

Welsh said that over the last 18 months, Chicago has opened 10 international tourism offices in countries like China, Japan, Brazil and Britain. The city is also running 30-second television advertisements in cities throughout the Midwest marketing the Windy City as a vacation spot.

Spending by both foreign and domestic visitors reached record highs. International guests increased spending 14.5 percent last year for a $1.7 billion total, while U.S. visitors spent $11 billion, a 5.6 percent surge.

"What really stood out to me is that we made some good progress on the international front," Don Welsh later told Crain's Chicago Business. "Even when you look back at the high-water years of 2007 and 2008, the highest international tax revenue we had back then was $82 million. The fact that we've grown to $106 million today clearly validates the opening of the international offices."

Hotels rising all over downtown Chicago 
The Great Recession put a serious damper on new construction in the city, but Chicago has finally turned a corner in certain areas of its commercial real estate sector.

According to The New York Times, Chicago has seen more than a dozen hotels open or go under construction, adding approximately 2,700 hotel rooms to the city.

Chicago is the nation's fourth-largest hotel market with a downtown total of around 37,000 rooms. It trails only Las Vegas, New York and Orlando, Fla., as the nation's hotel mecca.

The Chicago tourism surge has been fueled by smaller lifestyle hotels, according to Ben Weprin, president of A.J. Capital Partners. Weprin's company currently has three projects under construction.

"Conventions are not our primary focus," Weprin told The New York Times. "We aim for a younger demographic that likes to go out to restaurants and bars. We try to create a town square atmosphere in our properties."

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