Pritzker touts growth of Illinois tourism at conference in Peoria

Joe Deacon
6 Min Read

Gov. JB Pritzker says he’s committed to helping travel and tourism thrive in Illinois.

During a stop in Peoria, Pritzker said tourism is vital to the state’s economic health and credited an audience of around 360 industry professionals for their resilience and perseverance over the past five years.

“I am truly struck again and again by the challenges that we have overcome, all of us together,” Pritzker said Wednesday in remarks before the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism at the Peoria Civic Center. “The tourism industry, perhaps more than any other, has seen dramatic highs and lows during last five years.”

Pritzker said $5.5 billion in hotel revenue last year led to a $78 million economic impact from tourism across the state.

“We’ve gone from a COVID-induced recession that caused the most difficult challenges that I think the tourism industry may have ever faced, or certainly in generations, to a recovery that is now shattering tourism records,” Pritzker said.

Daniel Thomas, deputy director for the Illinois Office of Tourism, said Illinois presents a broad spectrum of travel opportunities.

“When I think about the diversity of the state of Illinois, it’s agritourism, its outdoor recreation. It’s big global cities, but it’s also small town charm,” he said.

Thomas sees the economic figures from last year as both an encouraging sign, and an opportunity to expand their marketing approach.

“Tourism right now has got some really great momentum in the state of Illinois,” Thomas said. “Of course, coming out of the pandemic we needed to relaunch and rebrand and let the rest of the world know that Illinois was back open for business.”

Last year’s success follows the state’s 2022 figures showing that more than 111 million visitors spent more than $44 billion across Illinois — an increase of 37% from the year before.

Thomas said Illinois’ strides in tourism growth in recent years are due in part to the successful series of commercials featuring Jane Lynch built around the slogan, “Middle of Everything.”

“When I look at every aspect of tourism for the state of Illinois right now, momentum is the word that I know the governor has used several times — and he’s right,” Thomas said. “We’re seeing tremendous momentum, and it’s not just in outdoor experiences. It’s also in our luxury market, it’s in our big city.”

One particular area that’s shown significant growth is international travel, he said, noting record increased levels of flight traffic at O’Hare International Airport, especially from India and Australia.

“The average length of stay, a domestic visit is normally about 1.6 or maybe two nights, three nights, weekend getaways. International travel, those customers from Australia and India are staying between 14 and 21 days,” Thomas said.

“So that is a real opportunity to make sure that our marketing campaign that was based on the foundation of ‘Middle of Everything’ is fully integrated, and that we are set up for the future. We have every intention to prioritize tourism and make sure that Illinois is in the top choices for visitors.”

Pritzker said Illinois is investing millions in renovating state parks and promoting arts, shopping, dining and other tourist attractions, adding the state last month committed $4.6 million in grants to 20 tourism organizations across the state.

“When I came into office, I knew immediately that we needed to invest in tourism for the state of Illinois. It has the greatest return for the state, for businesses in our state, of almost any investment that we can make to promote our economy,” Pritzker said.

Thomas said while the trends are positive, they’re constantly examining and adjusting their approach to attracting more tourists.

“The reality is the visitor has changed, and how we travel has changed,” he said. “But what most importantly is an area that we’re focused on is: why people are traveling and what motivates them to travel. So for us, as we look beyond the pandemic, we’re relearning all of those motivators.”

The three-day conference on travel and tourism ends on Thursday.

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