Overseas visitors heading back after weak year

By Kathy Bergen
Posted June 22, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.

Chicago suffered a particularly steep decline in visitors from overseas in 2009, but merchants, restaurateurs and hoteliers should start to feel a modest rebound this year.

That forecast will be delivered to the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association this week by Helen Marano, director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

Chicago saw an 18 percent drop in overseas visitors last year. The number fell to 1.1 million, one of the worst declines among major U.S. destinations, the Commerce Department reported. The nation saw a 6 percent drop, to 23.8 million overseas visitors.

Chicago’s showing stemmed, at least in part, from its position as a business center, Marano said. Visits by overseas business travelers took more of a nosedive nationally than leisure travel.

“We’re starting to see business come around, and that’s good news for 2010,” she said in an interview.

Overseas business and leisure travel, a category that excludes visitors from Canada and Mexico, should climb 5 percent, to nearly 25 million nationally, the Commerce Department projects.

The department does not make forecasts for specific cities or regions. But Marano noted that prior to 2009, Chicago “was on a good roll,” gaining market share in the previous three years.

Nationwide this year, “we’ll just barely eke past 2008’s strength,” she said. The biggest visitor increases are expected to come from South America and Asia.

The commerce department expects arrivals of overseas visitors to continue an upward climb, rising by rising 32 percent, to 31.3 million by the end of 2014.

Foreign visitors make up a very small slice of Chicago’s annual visitor totals, which generally exceed 40 million. But they represent a lucrative slice of business.

“Four percent of travelers to the U.S. are from overseas,” Marano said, “but they represent 17 percent of the revenue.”

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One comment:

  1. Benjamin June 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    The Commerce Dept. needs to promote the USA abroad via commercials. Tourism is a big industry for major cities like NYC, LA, Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago.