The Circle of Tourism

by Don Welch, Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

It’s not exactly the same as in The Lion King, but travel promotion can be the “circle of life” for a community. Wise investments in effective travel and tourism promotion can kickstart a whole chain of events and feed an entire cycle of economic benefits. Travel promotion increases visitor trips, which in turn results in increased visitor spending, which helps create new jobs and increases tax revenues for the community—a win-win situation.

But residents of a community often don’t realize that. Findings by the Focus Forward CI initiative reveal that tourism is not well-recognized as an economic development resource in this area. While many state and local budgets are stretched to the limit, a report by the U.S. Travel Association concludes that communities across the country have discovered that an “investment in travel promotion is an essential strategy for encouraging economic growth, and is one of the only sources of new revenues. As policymakers search for innovative solutions to their budget dilemmas, travel promotion delivers proven results.” The circle is easy to follow:

  • Effective advertising and promotional campaigns stimulate new interest in the area among potential visitors and meeting planners.
  • New interest and awareness by promoting our area’s attractions, such as the Peoria Riverfront Museum, Caterpillar Visitors Center and new shopping opportunities, result in more visitors to the Peoria area.
  • An increase in visitors means an increase in visitor spending, not only at local attractions, but at area hotels, restaurants, retail stores, airports, gas stations and other businesses.
  • More spending by visitors helps create new jobs in the area and increases tax revenues.

Tourism funding is a must for communities in the State of Illinois. In 2011, Illinois saw a 10-percent increase in visitors, generating a record $31.8 billion in revenue. Here are a few other interesting numbers:

  • 93.3 million. The number of visitors to Illinois in 2011. New visitors mean new money for the state.
  • $2.3 billion. The average amount of tax revenues generated by Illinois tourism each year. This helps fund education, healthcare, public safety and social services around the state.
  • 291,990. The number of jobs in Illinois related to tourism. With about one in 10 jobs related to the industry, tourism is one of the state’s largest employers.
  • $1,110. The amount of money the average Illinois family saves in taxes each year because of Illinois tourism.

So what does this mean for us in central Illinois? The good news is that the trend is the same. Each of the eight counties that the PACVB encompasses has seen increases in tourism spending in recent years, from 5.6 percent to 12.1 percent, and that trend is expected to continue in 2013. Here are a few highlights for Peoria County from 2011:

  • $295 million. The economic impact of tourism in Peoria County, a 10.3-percent increase.
  • $68 million. The amount of payroll related to tourism in Peoria County, an increase of 4.5 percent.
  • 20,720. The number of jobs in Peoria County related to tourism.

These numbers show how tourism is a cash-generating machine for state and local governments. In today’s highly competitive travel market, destinations that maintain or even increase funding for their travel promotion programs seize market share, while those that cut programs suffer immediate revenue losses. Colorado is a case in point; when the state cut its travel promotion a few years ago, it lost a hefty percentage of its tourism revenue to other states.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, promotion dollars go toward much more than glossy brochures and slick advertising. We agree. The staff at the PACVB researches and executes marketing campaigns; represents the Peoria area at trade shows; engages and interacts with key media and journalists; meets with travel buyers and meeting planners to encourage them to bring their meetings, conventions and events to this area; and maintains an interactive presence through websites, social media and other means, communicating with stakeholders and members on a daily basis.

Ultimately, the goal is, of course, the “circle of tourism”—to increase visitors and increase visitors’ spending, which in turn supports new jobs and generates additional tax revenue that pays for the initial investment many times over. iBi

Don Welch is president and CEO of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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