J.D. Dalfonso is the president and CEO of Enjoy Peoria, also known as the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit organization that promotes the Peoria area as a destination and contributes to the economic growth of its communities. Through its tourism department, convention sales, sports and marketing, the PACVB serves as a one-stop-shop for discovering everything the Peoria area has to offer. The Peoria-born Dalfonso took the reins of the PACVB this summer upon the retirement of Don Welch, who was with the organization for seven years. He is a graduate of Ball State University and previously served as communications director for Congressman Darin LaHood.
Tell us about your family and growing up in central Illinois.
I’ve been proud to call central Illinois home my entire life. I credit my faith, the Heart of Illinois culture, Midwestern hospitality, and my family and friends for molding me into the professional I am today. My father, Joe, and my mother, Dawn, have been incredible role models for me and my two brothers, David and Dominick. With my dad serving as Bradley University’s sports information director for 23 years, I grew up with Bradley Athletics, which played a key role in my understanding what pride in a community looks like and the power behind tradition.
Today, I like to humbly brag about my beautiful, loving wife, Lauren (Snopek), who was born and raised in Metamora, and being a dad to our two-year-old son, Joe. Additionally, we have been blessed to expect our second child this Christmas. The season should, indeed, be merry and bright!
How did your educational background segue into your early career?
The only time I lived outside of central Illinois was during my time at Ball State University. Knowing that I did not want to pursue an advanced degree, I used my four years to garner as much real-world experience as possible so I could prove to future employers (during a recession) that I was qualified for the workforce. If it wasn’t for the diverse opportunities in internships and immersive learning programs offered at Ball State, I’m not sure that plan would have come together.
How did your time as press secretary for Congressman LaHood help prepare you for your current position?
It was truly an honor and privilege to work for Congressman LaHood during such a pivotal time in American politics. I was able to serve Rep. LaHood here in the 18th District and help build longstanding relationships with local media after his special election win in September 2015. It was incredibly rewarding to witness firsthand the hard work our local media does to inform our communities about the issues facing central Illinois.
The most impressionable lesson I learned—which has helped in my new role—stems from witnessing the impressive workload the Congressman and the office take on with regard to constituent service. Most people see the fiery debates, the soundbites and the politics which has caused so much division in government today. What they don’t get to see are the thousands of phone calls, letters, emails and other correspondence with constituents who need assistance navigating federal bureaucracies. That’s where the most impact is ultimately made—solving problems for 700,000+ constituents, regardless of how they voted or which political party they claim. Witnessing this reminded me that it’s crucial to stay grounded and remember what’s most important: customer service.
Since coming to the CVB, has anything surprised you about the organization?
The biggest surprise thus far has been the outpouring of support and enthusiasm our region has for our Convention and Visitors Bureau. As we’ve started to get rolling, that enthusiasm has also been shown by the staff here at the CVB. Everyone is excited to build on our work and begin new initiatives to promote the region for tourism.
What are your top priorities over the next year?
My top priority is to ensure that our team within the CVB, our partners and communities outside of our organization have a clear-cut understanding of how we can best drive forward tourism and destination marketing. This is where most of my excitement lies at the moment. With so many avenues to garner public perspective on the region (See: “The Big Table” event last month), I’m excited to use data and stakeholder feedback to map the direction of the CVB over the coming years. I think a lot of the work in the coming months will set the tone for how our organization will be the strongest partner it can be for communities across central Illinois for years to come.
What do you believe is the CVB’s core strength? How do you view its role in the community?
The strength of our organization is the ability to play an integral role in showcasing the region and, in turn, providing avenues for economic development. I see the CVB playing two major roles to achieve that success. One, we need to continue to press hard on the traditional role CVBs have played in the past, which is to promote the destination to encourage overnight stays and contract events. We continue to see success in this area as the Peoria area topped $656 million in tourism spending in 2018, generating $16 million in local tax receipts and supporting more than 5,000 jobs. Simply put, tourism means jobs and opportunities.
The second role, which has really transitioned the role of Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) in recent years, is to make sure the CVB is a destination advocate and steward. What do I mean by that? Well, when we advocate why our destination is a great place to live, work, start a career, raise a family, etc., everyone from outside the destination can see how much we enjoy our community, which ultimately translates into a great place to visit. Think: “Wow, they do cool stuff over there – why don’t we go visit?”
What is your long-term vision for the organization?
Building on that second role of the CVB, I’ve challenged our staff to really push the envelope to be innovative in highlighting central Illinois as a desired place to live, work and play. With such a rich history in the area, how do we tap into that past and build experiences for those who call central Illinois home? And, how do we provide experiences desired by those choosing a destination for work or pleasure? To do that, we need to understand our narrative. We need to know where we come from and where we want to go. We need to have real conversations that can help put forth ideas to help us understand our opportunities and address any challenges standing in our way. I believe it will be a fun process—and one that will lead to greater pride for the communities we call home. PM