The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Chicago: No. 1 Tourist Destination ... Well, Kind Of ...

By Olivia Leigh in News on Aug 21, 2007 4:13PM

When you think of the nation’s top tourist destinations, family favorite Orlando, Fla., and adult playground Las Vegas, Nev., might spring to mind. But our own Windy City? Depends on who you ask….

In June, tourism officials from the city and state proclaimed that the number of domestic visitors journeying to our fair city had increased by nearly ten percent, from 40.2 million in 2005 to 44.6 million in 2006 — a significant achievement, to be sure.

2007_08_bean.jpgHowever, the latest figures are sourced from a new formula that includes more day-trip visitors, a fact the tourism boards did not disclose when the statistics were released earlier this summer. Under the new formula, Chicago was launched into a four-way tie for the most popular tourist destination in the country, along with Atlanta, Vegas and New York. Under the old model, which many states and cities continue to use, Chicago ranked fourth behind Orlando, Vegas and New York (tied for second), and San Diego.

As quoted in the Tribune, Doug Shiflett, the chief executive of the firm that generated the domestic visitor estimates, day trips to Chicago by people coming from 50 or more miles away were undercounted, and lodging figures underestimated the number of domestic visitors shacking up in Chicago hotel rooms.

While some hospitality hotshots believe the new figures aren’t misleading due to increases in the leisure travel industry across the board, some disagree. In the article, Mark Levine, director Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, also pointed out that 44 million domestic visitors to the city seemed rather high, especially when compared to a city like Montreal, which registered only 14 million visitors. And, when the new figures include people such as Wisconsin football fans that trek down to the city for a night game, the numbers suddenly become a bit fuzzier.

At any rate, when higher tourist figures can help with marketing and budgeting, we expect that the city will continue to use those that paint them in the best light, even if we have a bit of trouble believing a trip to the top of the John Hancock holds the same appeal as a night of raucous gambling in Vegas or a day with the Mouse down in Florida.

Photo by Asten.