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CHICAGO — Chicago business leaders joined together under one roof Tuesday for the 20th annual Hospitality & Tourism Summit. Organizers told WGN they’re happy to be back after the pandemic caused last year’s event to go virtual.

The Navy Pier Grand Ballroom has been packed all day — a welcomed sight for many vendors in attendance. Some say their businesses barely survived the pandemic. Others believe Tuesday’s turnout is a glimmer of hope after a difficult year.

“It feels incredible because, number one, we need each other,” said Kevin Ball of In Grape Company. “We need to be able to react and see smiles on faces. Most importantly, I think that there will be a lot for things we learned in the last year or two that we will be able to hold on to and integrate back into this outdoor, social world.”

On Tuesday, more than 85 restaurants, attractions, transportation companies and event services came together for the daylong event.

“This is all about anyone in the city had that has anything to do with tourism or events coming together from the standpoint of buyers and sellers to be able to build the events and experiences that our guests of Chicago expect,” said organizer Tim O’Malley.

The city is gearing up to fully reopen this Friday after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot moved up the date of a fully reopening from July 4 to June 11.

While the city still hasn’t met the goal to have 70% of the total population fully vaccinated — the city currently stands at 41% — businesses large scale, conventions and amusements parks will be able to operate at full capacity since the beginning of the pandemic.

That’s good news for so many businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

“For us to be hit with a brick wall like that and to lay people off like that didn’t deserve it,” said Kevin Duff, president of Signature Transporation Group. “To see our business go from 100% budget to 10% budget overnight, it was devastating. So we are excited now to be back in action and to feel this energy here at this convention.”

With Phase 5 immiment, vendors say they are looking forward to the future.

“The excitement and energy here today is amazing,” said Lisa Gurick, director of group sales and events at Hawthorne Race Course 

The Navy Pier-area convention lasts through 6:30 p.m.

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