Chicago hotel occupancy rises, but lucrative convention business still missing

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The nice weather, spring break vacations and more people receiving vaccines seems to be bringing more people to downtown Chicago for anything from day trips to longer stays.

"The crowds do gather at the entrances of certain places, it's more heavily crowded," said Margaret FloRito, who came in from Naperville for the day.

"Driving here, the line to all the drive through Starbucks at all of the stops was ridiculous," said Linda Woods, who drove in with her daughter and friends for a week from Ohio.

Woods is among an increasing number of visitors staying at downtown hotels. The most recent numbers show Chicago hotels at 45% occupancy as of Friday, March 19 and 56% as of Saturday, March 20. But over this past weekend, some properties were nearly sold out.

"It was a long and daunting tunnel. Finally there's a light at the end of the tunnel, things are definitely looking up," said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. "The things is, the growth we have seen is primarily in the leisure market, people that just want to get out of the house and are stir crazy. What we have failed to see is the convention business rebound."

At Kimpton Gray Hotel in the Loop, Director of Sales and Marketing Joel Contor said since Valentine's Day weekend they've seen increasing occupancy.

"I feel optimistic," Contor said. "Cautiously optimistic as we look to better days ahead."

While there is optimism, 20 hotels in Chicago are still closed and hotels have not called back many laid off workers yet, until growth in occupancy is stabilized.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.