Destination marketing organizations like the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau have recently been living our George Bailey moment. You know, the famous story It’s a Wonderful Life, where the main character experiences what the world would be like without him thanks to a little help from a wannabe angel on Christmas Eve. As it goes in this 1946 film classic, George Bailey witnesses a world he could never imagine would exist. A world without all the joys that he knew.
This interesting analogy regarding the effects of the coronavirus on travel and hospitality comes from a leader in the tourism industry, Brad Dean of Discover Puerto Rico. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how right he was. And I remember how thankful George was when the snow started to fall again and he realized he was back in the world he knew and loved.
An Industry Vanishes
You see, we have experienced a world without tourism over the past two months. The coronavirus and stay-at-home orders have not only upended our routines and our sense of normalcy, but our social gatherings, our entertainment and our overall quality of life. With this abrupt halt in our ability to gather in a restaurant—let alone welcome visitors traveling to the area to support those same restaurants, venues or hotels—municipalities are seeing significant budget shortfalls due to the loss of sales, hotel and amusement taxes.
Across the nation, one third of unemployment claims are coming from the hospitality industry, whether that be the staff at our local hotels, restaurant workers who serve us at hundreds of businesses across central Illinois, or the venue employees who execute operations at the Peoria Civic Center, Louisville Slugger Complex, Avanti’s Dome and Eastside Centre.
All local entities that generate revenue for municipalities, providing economic opportunity and quality of life, have taken a significant hit. Once those things were gone, we felt the impact as well. However, enough doom and gloom. Here is where the light at the end of the tunnel starts shining more brightly.
Ready for Recovery
Keep in mind that we have been here before and have always persevered. The Peoria area has always stepped up and faced adversity head-on. Many chapters have been written throughout our 340-year history, and we are in the midst of writing another one right now, together.
Truly, this region is positioned well to recover, particularly with our market size. Being such a strong community for meetings and conventions, as well as sports and outdoor recreation, we are already working with our partners to monitor the latest trends in public safety and event execution. Larger events across the country are estimated to operate at lower levels, bringing smaller attendance to mid-sized markets, and Peoria is ready to host when the time comes.
In addition, travel behaviors are expected to change as we ease back into a new normalcy. Our industry expects far more drive travel through recovery than any other means of travel, so when we showcase our community pride and amenities, the PACVB stands ready to strategically target even more strongly to those within shorter driving distances.
Before this pandemic hit, travel and tourism played influence to $656 million in travel spending across central Illinois, translating into $16 million in local tax receipts. In the end, 5,000 jobs are supported in the region through tourism. Those statistics are more than just dollars and cents. They are new roads funded with help from the restaurant sales tax. They are memories being made by youth athletes competing in central Illinois. They are 5,000 jobs putting food on the table for families.
Tourism means jobs. Tourism means opportunities. It means economic development, safer roadways and new memories. Just as we saw George Bailey at the end of the film, tourism and travel will also see friends, families and visitors returning and spending money to support one another, and we will once again be reminded that it is, indeed, a wonderful life. PM