Chicago’s COVID-19 convention losses

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CHICAGO — Concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak are taking a financial toll on Chicago’s convention and tourism business, according to an estimate by WGN Investigates. 

Four major trade shows and conferences have canceled upcoming events at McCormick Place and a spokesperson for the convention center says organizers of other upcoming events are contemplating canceling.

Convention business is big business for Chicago. The American College of Cardiology, Ace Hardware’s spring conference and a show put on by Oracle and the International Housewares Show have all canceled in recent days. That translates to a loss of as 120,170 hotel nights. 

Chicago’s average nightly room rate is $205, which means a loss of potentially $24.6 million in bookings for local hotels. 

It’s not just hoteliers who are hurting. Hotel stays are taxed heavily in our area with city, county, state and various other taxing bodies tacking on a 17.4% tax for all stays. 

The estimated loss in hotel bookings for the four shows that have canceled so far may represent as much as $4.3 million in lost tax revenue. And all of these numbers don’t factor in the loss of ancillary spending by convention goers on things like restaurants, shopping and entertainment.

On Friday, when only two conventions scrapped their Chicago plans, Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted there was not a “tide” of convention cancellations.  “I think people are concerned about people traveling and being in large gatherings,” Lightfoot told reporters.  “What we have to do as a city is make sure we are over-communicating.”

A spokesperson for the agency that runs McCormick Place said they are constant contact with convention planners.  The National School Boards Association, The Franchise Business & Opportunities Expo and an automation trade group all have gatherings planned in Chicago in the weeks to come.

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