Enhancing the Byway Journey

by Beth Knapinski

The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway expands its offerings.

Since its designation in 2005, the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway has strived to make the journey part of the destination—to provide a “living museum without walls”—for travelers to the region. Now, the organization’s new mobile and online business initiatives seek to enhance the journey even more.

According to Anaise Berry, executive director, travelers along the Byway tend to bypass franchise restaurants and chain hotels in favor of locally-owned shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts as they seek to experience the natural beauty and stories of picturesque, small-town America. “Byways are all about stories—the story of a region and community,” says Berry. “The Byway traveler is looking to get off the beaten path… they are looking for that authentic route.”

Beyond Eco-Tourism
While the organization has been a consistently rich resource for information about natural attractions and eco-tourism, a 2012 economic development study showed that Byway travelers wanted to be directed to small, unique and locally-owned businesses, while businesses, in turn, wanted to be promoted through the organization. That led the organization to introduce business and attraction website listing options. “We want to complement the traveler’s experience of nature tourism and the river by pointing them to those small businesses that complement their experiences,” Berry explains.

Businesses and attractions can visit the Illinois River Road website and complete an online listing form to sign up for one of the three listing options. They include a free basic listing and two enhanced listings: one within a supporting Byway community, and one outside a supporting Byway community. With its website growing to more than 150,000 visits a year, the organization recognizes the value of online listings for establishments and travelers alike.

Denny and Jan Reed, owners of Mission Oak Inn in Henry, Illinois, say the online listings can only help businesses like theirs. “As a bed and breakfast, the new website listing will help bring awareness to our business,” Jan notes. “A lot of people, especially in the Peoria area, aren’t aware of us when they search on the Internet, but if we’re on the… website, that will definitely help us out.”

Going Mobile
Aside from increasingly gathering information online, travelers seek information mobility, the motivation behind the recent release of the Illinois River Road Mobile Tour. “Our main site offers a ton of information, but it can be difficult to navigate on a smartphone,” Berry says. “We’re trying to make it easy for visitors to tap into businesses [and] events and find out more about Byway communities.”

The mobile tour, which can be accessed on a smartphone or from a computer, allows users to search for recreation, attraction, shopping, dining and lodging by community or interest. It also includes photos and videos of Byway supporting communities, as well as links to tour maps and local tourism organizations. Berry notes statistics from the Office of Illinois Tourism, which show a nearly 25-percent increase in travel expenditures in the ten-county Byway region since 2005, illustrating an interest in traveling to the area and increased information. “People are here,” she says. “They’re coming here. They’re traveling and wanting more information.” iBi

Visit illinoisriverroad.org for more information. To access the mobile tour directly, visit illinoisriverroad.org/mobile.

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