Chicago has been voted the best large city in the U.S. for the fourth year in a row - a first in the category's history - by Conde Nast Traveler's Readers' Choice Awards.
The travel publication's readers' choice awards, now in their 33rd year, recognize readers' favorite cities, hotels, resorts, cruise lines and airlines.
The announcement comes at a time when global tourism is suffering from the COVID-19 health crisis, and Illinois has been hit hard by a lack of leisure and business visitors.
Illinois has lost more than 67,000 hotel-related jobs since March, but industry leaders warn those figures could double, and more than half of Illinois hotel owners surveyed in September said their properties are in danger of foreclosure without additional federal aid, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Still, the recognition from Conde Nast Traveler readers reaffirms Chicago's popularity, said David Whitaker, president and CEO of Choose Chicago, the city's tourism arm. Since 2017, readers have voted Chicago the country's best big city.
"It shows that the perception of Chicago is not a flash in the pan," Whitaker said. "We've been sustaining this for the last four years. That's encouraging. We have authentic visitor experiences. That's going to be even more important moving forward."
As the holiday season draws near, Whitaker said Choose Chicago is working with several merchant associations and neighborhood chambers of commerce on a marketing campaign to encourage residents and visitors to shop local.
"We are the shopping mecca of the Midwest. People are going to want to shop for their families during the holidays. They are going to want to take advantage of special savings. This is a perfect opportunity to seize on that," Whitaker said.
In late May, Choose Chicago launched the Tourism & Hospitality Forward initiative, which includes an alliance of more than 250 local businesses to establish best practices and safety measures as they welcome back visitors. Whitaker said the initiative will be important moving forward as the state and city ease more restrictions on businesses.
"Having the restaurants move to a new level, now 40% (capacity), is a great step forward. It builds customer confidence that health standards and practices are in place," he said.
Conde Nast Traveler, on its website, called Chicago a "world-class destination known for its impressive architecture, first-rate museums, brilliant chefs, and massive brewing scene," and added the city has some of the "most pleasant people."
More than 715,000 Conde Nast Traveler readers voted in the survey, which took place from April through June.
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