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Emanuel Hopes to Reach 55 Million Tourists by 2020 After Impressive 2013

By  Josh McGhee and Erica Demarest | January 22, 2014 8:46am | Updated on January 22, 2014 2:37pm

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Wednesday a goal of 55 million annual tourists by 2020.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Wednesday a goal of 55 million annual tourists by 2020.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

CHICAGO — After city hotels saw record revenues in 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has upped the ante: He announced Wednesday plans to attract 55 million annual tourist visits by 2020.

When the mayor took office in 2011, the city was reaching about 40 million tourists annually. Emanuel said he hoped to hit 50 million by 2020, but was pleasantly surprised this month when 2013 numbers revealed 46 million annual visitors.

"As someone who likes to see goals, I set the bar too low for all of you to clear it, as well as for myself," Emanuel said at a news conference Wednesday.

"We're well on our way to hitting the goal of 50 million. We should set our heights higher and loftier because it will mean more jobs, more revenue, more industry, more economic growth for the city of Chicago."

Also on Wednesday, the city announced record high hotel occupancy rates in 2013, with a citywide rate of 75 percent.

From January to December, Chicago hotels recorded 275,000 more room nights than in 2012, for a total of roughly 9.9 million room nights — "by far a record," a spokesman for the mayor's office said.

About two-thirds of the hotel rooms were filled by "leisure visitors," according to Choose Chicago, the city's tourism agency.

Hotel tax revenue rang in at $105.93 million — a number the mayor touted as money "we can invest back in our neighborhoods and our communities."

The city currently employs around 175,000 people in the tourism and convention industry, the mayor said.

Emanuel made the announcements at two separate events Wednesday: a ribbon-cutting ceremony for River North's Kinzie Hotel, 20 W. Kinzie St., and a news conference at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.

During the recession, Emanuel said, Chicago saw a greater decline in tourism than other major American cities. Moving forward, he hopes to draw more revenue with business conventions and international tourism.

The first major push will be a citywide expansion of Chinese New Year festivities, which kick off Jan. 31 and run through Valentine's Day. The activities are being promoted heavily in China.

"China is one of Chicago's fastest-growing overseas markets," said Don Welsh, president and CEO of Choose Chicago. "Rather than concentrate the festivities in Chinatown, there will be activities all over the city."

Highlights include:

• Luminance color and light show: Millennium Park ice rink, 201 E. Randolph St., 5-10 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 2

• Shadow play window display: Macy's on State Street (Randolph Street windows), 111 N. State St., Jan. 31- Feb. 24, daily

• SmileBooth photos: State Street between Lake and Randolph, 1-9 p.m. Jan. 31 and 1-5 p.m. Feb. 1.

• Argyle Street Lunar New Year parade: Starts at 1121 W. Argyle St., 1 p.m. Feb. 1.

• Lantern celebration: Navy Pier Crystal Gardens, 600 E. Grand Ave., noon Feb. 16.

For a full listing, click here.