Comment: Cory Jobe – Building a regional destination

We’re just starting to heal. Many of us, in one way or another, are still suffering under the weight of the pandemic. Many of us have had family members affected. Many of us have seen our lives turned upside down. We have lost jobs. We have lost business. How do we start to pick ourselves up? Are we focusing on getting things back to normal… or are we leaning forward and building the region, communities and life we ​​want?

The 2020 pandemic brought the tourism and service industry to its knees with an impact nine times more powerful than the tragedy of September 11. Local businesses and attractions in southwest Illinois, which depended on tourism, loss of employees, revenue, and faced unprecedented choices: close their doors or turn to sales and service departments. online delivery. Overnight, we’ve all been on a roller coaster of uncertainty and fear.

Visitor spending and tax revenues have fallen by more than 50% in Illinois. Locally, this meant a loss of nearly $ 40 million in local and state tax revenue that would have been generated by visitor spending. Prior to the pandemic, tourism was the third largest industry in our six-county region. Everyone was affected by these losses.

Combining lost tax revenues, jobs and the impact on the service sector workforce, the pandemic has raised awareness that we are one of the top regional destinations in the Midwest and that we need to focus on building a resilient tourism destination for years to come.


And now? The final months of 2021 have given the tourism industry a glimmer of hope, both statewide and locally.

People are more and more open to travel, but they don’t want to visit the big cities and the crowded attractions that once called them. Travelers prefer rivers and roads to skyscrapers. Now they are planning visits to smaller destinations with an emphasis on nature and outdoor activities. And guess what? This is the Great Rivers & Routes area in southwestern Illinois. We are home to four National Scenic Drives – the National Highway, Route 66, the Great River Highway, and the Meet the Great Rivers National Scenic Highway. We’re home to Illinois’ largest state park, the Lewis & Clark National Trail and the National Mississippi Water Trail, and we’re located at the confluence of the three great American rivers: the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri.

But there is so much more in our region. There are the people, the businesses, the attractions that have been the foundation of the local tourism industry. State and federal assistance is timely, but we need to build capacity as a region; we need to focus, come together and rebuild our region for the better. Together.

We have a unique opportunity to build the destination we want to see and to solidify our place as a world-class destination for travelers around the world.

We encourage regional mayors, economic development officials and community leaders to show courage when it comes to determining how to spend pandemic relief funds. Thinking about conservation is not enough. These funds can and must be a game-changer for the tourism industry in our region.

The Great Rivers & Routes Tourist Board has worked hard over the past few years and particularly over the past 18 months to make our destination a priority for travelers. We welcome returning travelers and regional travelers after a 12 month absence. But we must continue to be relevant and viable for those who are looking for their next travel destination, whether it is for leisure activities, attending a meeting, conference or sporting event for young people. The destination marketing we have is not enough anymore… and it never really was. We have to build and then manage the destination that we need and could have. A destination not only for leisure travelers but also for young families, retirees, start-ups, teleworkers, etc.

We must work together to make tourism the engine of economic recovery in the region. Be bold thinkers. Be transformative in our planning and development along our rivers and paths. Together. Our main streets and rivers are economic corridors that can contribute to the livability of our region. We have to be creative and innovative. We cannot expect to do the same things and expect different results.

Are we ready to build the destination we want by creating a livable destination for young families, active retirees and entrepreneurs? If you don’t think we’re a regional destination for tourism, then why was over $ 1.4 billion spent on travel in 2018 and 2019 combined? We have a destination that people want to visit.

Local leaders, it’s up to you. We challenge you to be transformational.

Cory Jobe is President of the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Office.


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