Summer travel is heating up. A survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association shows nearly 70% of Americans plan to travel this summer.
But what about tourism here in Chicago? Has travel to the city returned to pre-pandemic levels?
Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of Choose Chicago, is confident the city is on the road to recovery.
“The city has made remarkable progress. One of the metrics we monitor is hotel usage and rates. For the first six months of 2022, occupied hotel rooms totaled 4.18 million. That’s 75% of 2019 levels,” Osmond said. “This is great considering that in Q1 2022 we were still battling omicron. Even better, room rates in the first six months of 2022 also exceeded 2019 levels.”
Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, is glad leisure travel is picking up, but says hotels are still waiting for business travelers to return.
“That hurts a market like Chicago more than it does a beach or mountain destination that’s less reliant on business travelers,” Jacobson said. “But he will recover and has already started to do so. We’ve had this conversation before, after 9/11 and during the economic crisis of 2008. Companies realize that to close a deal, you have to do it in person. You cannot sell a product or service exclusively on Zoom. As the return to the office accelerates, you will also see an increase in business travel.
Staffing shortages are another pandemic challenge Chicago hotels continue to face.
“Yeah, that’s the number one struggle for hotels right now,” says Jacobson. “We already had high salaries but we have even increased them in recent months. The starting wage at many Chicago hotels is currently $23 an hour, and that’s just the starting wage. This does not include many of the great perks our hotels offer like health care, pension plans, public transit subsidies, free or discounted travel anywhere in the world, free cafeteria meals employees, even child care benefits.