It’s been a harsh winter for Chicago hotels, and relief can’t come soon enough

After a brief burst of optimism last summer, Chicago hotels are once again going through tough times.

The spread of vaccinations last year brought the city’s infection rate down and tourists returned, although business travelers were still scarce. But the punch of the omicron and winter led to a sharp drop in occupancy. Now some stakeholders are calling on Governor JB Pritzker to provide the hospitality industry with another round of aid.

The numbers are raw. According to STR data published by Choose Chicago, the city’s tourist information center, hotel occupancy in the central business district fell from 46% the week before Christmas and 47% the week of New Year’s. , at between 22% and 25.6% throughout the year. month of January.

Courtesy of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority

McCormick Place Convention Center

“We had good momentum throughout the summer of last year, and even over the festive period, but now that we’re into the new year, some of the downtown hotels had a rate of single-digit occupancy last week,” said Michael, CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. Jacobson told Fox 32 in January.

Chicago has never been a tourist mecca in the dead of winter, so January’s low occupancy rate isn’t necessarily bad news. But downtown occupancy so far this year is below the historical average, according to STR.

For the week ending January 29, the downtown hotel occupancy rate was 22.5%. That’s down 42.9% from the same week in 2019, just before the pandemic began, according to STR data from Choose Chicago.

Demand for downtown rooms in the week ending Jan. 29 took a big leap from the same week in 2021, rising more than 124%, but that’s cold consolation for those watching the market.

“It’s only growing faster because it was so low and didn’t recover at all last year, so any improvement this year seems much more significant,” said Stacey Nadolny, general manager of HVS Chicago. .

Jacobson wants to see action from the state government. He pointed out in a statement from the association that nationally, the hospitality industry has lost $111.8 billion during the pandemic. And with business and tourism still subject to disruption from Covid-19, hotels are struggling to bring back the thousands of staff lost to layoffs over the past two years.

“Despite these struggles, Governor JB Pritzker’s budget proposal failed to offer any relief to the industry, which before the pandemic brought in $4 billion a year in state and local taxes and supported more than 290,000 jobs.” , said Jacobson. “As the governor looks for ways to support working families, we’re calling on him to pass our hotel jobs stimulus plan, which would allocate $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to hotels across the state. .”

More help may be on the way. In recent weeks, new infections due to the omicron variant have dropped dramatically. As long as no new variant appears, this decline could lead to the revival of business travel and tourism.

Reserved area

Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Weekly hotel occupancy in downtown Chicago, according to STR.

According to the City of Chicago, the current daily average of new Covid-19 cases is 532, down from 6,891 recorded on January 3, and roughly equal to the numbers recorded by the city at the end of the last summer. Similar declines were seen elsewhere in Illinois. In response, Pritzker this week announced plans to end the state’s mask mandate in most public places by the end of the month. Chicago officials seem set to follow the governor’s lead.

“If we as a city continue to see declines in these key Covid indicators, we should also be able to lift the restrictions at this time,” a statement from the Chicago Department of Public Health said Wednesday. .

Convention-goers are the other mainstay of the city’s hospitality industry, and there are already some signs of optimism in this sector. The Chicago Auto Show will open this weekend at the McCormick Place Convention Center, a return to its traditional February schedule after the pandemic forced the postponement of the 2021 event to July.

In January, the International Housewares Association, based in Rosemont, Ill., decided that its three-day Inspired Home show would continue at McCormick Place starting March 5. The show is typically one of Chicago’s largest, drawing up to 52,000 attendees, and was the first convention to cancel in 2020. Although this year’s event is shorter than usual, the association plans to return to its typical four-day schedule next year.

McCormick Place consists of four interconnecting exhibition halls, as well as the 10,387-seat Wintrust Arena, and at over 2.6 million square feet, it is the largest convention center in North America.

According to Cynthia McCafferty, speaking on behalf of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the municipal corporation that owns Navy Pier and McCormick Place, 152 events are planned for McCormick this year. These fairs are expected to attract a total of approximately 1.6 million visitors.

That would be far behind the number of visitors brought to Chicago by conventions in 2019, she added. That year, around 270 events took place, attended by between 2.8 and 2.9 million people. But just weeks into the new year, McCafferty said more events were likely to be added to the schedule.

“The sales pipeline looks really strong, and I think people are ready to get back to meeting in person,” she said.

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