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by Matt Alderton | February 13, 2015
Although his office didn't release specific numbers, Chicago booked a record number of meetings and conventions in 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week, indicating that Chicago in the last three years has gone from fifth to first in the country as a destination for meetings and conventions, based on Cvent's annual ranking of the top 50 U.S. meeting destinations.

Its surge in meetings activity helped Chicago attract a record 50.2 million visitors last year, up 3.5 percent over 2013, reported Emanuel, who said Chicago is on track to achieve its goal of reaching 55 million visitors by 2020.

"Continuing to grow Chicago's tourism industry is a vital part of our strategy to create jobs and promote economic growth in neighborhoods all throughout the City of Chicago," Emanuel said. "In less than four years, we have increased our number of visitors by 10 million per year, adding more than 9,400 jobs. These gains prove what can happen when we have a coordinated strategy to promote tourism and make the right investments in our airports, our transit system, and our infrastructure. This progress also proves that our goal of attracting 55 million visitors per year is in reach."

Chicago's ambitious visitor goal dates back to 2012, when Emanuel merged the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture to create a new destination marketing organization: Choose Chicago. The city's initial goal of 50 million visitors by 2020 was revised to 55 million when it became clear that the 50-million mark would be reached years ahead of schedule.

Fueled by its goal, Chicago saw records across almost all key performance indicators throughout the year in 2014, including hotel room demand, which saw records for nine consecutive months and totaled 10.24 million room nights for the first time in the city's history. This was supported by a record occupancy rate of 75.68 percent, which generated $2.03 billion in hotel revenue in 2014 and hotel tax revenue of $113.5 million, the third consecutive year this revenue has eclipsed $100 million.

"This exceptional performance was achieved while an additional 382,000 room nights were added to the market in 2014," Choose Chicago President and CEO Don Welsh said. "Chicago continues to have one of the fastest growing domestic markets for new hotel development, and we remain committed to securing new demand generators for the city. With major new events on the horizon, including the NFL Draft, The James Beard Awards, Microsoft Ignite, and the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, 2015 is poised to be Chicago's best year yet."