A Publication of WTVP

The Peoria area is famous for bucking national trends, and the current economic trend would be a good one to buck. The financial crisis that is gripping Wall Street, the Big Three automakers and much of America so far is not crippling this area—at least from the standpoint of travel. Hotel tax receipts for calendar year 2008 in Peoria are on record pace, and East Peoria is enjoying similar results. But the national economic forecast for 2009 looks bleak, and it may be only a matter of time before we sustain a more direct hit.

The U.S. Travel Association (formerly the Tourism Industry Association), a trade group representing hotels, airlines and other companies focused on U.S. travel, has a pessimistic outlook for business travel in 2009, which is the bread and butter of hotels in the Peoria area. Business travel is expected to drop 3.7 percent this year and another 2.7 percent next year as businesses cut back on meetings, conferences and exhibitions.

Or will it? Within these economic storm clouds lies a silver lining for the Peoria area. Companies may be choosing to cut back their meetings, but not cut them out all together. We look for an increasing number of corporations and organizations to hold necessary conventions and conferences in more affordable locations, and create more regional events in lieu of one large event. That would bode well for Peoria, which boasts the geographic location and price point to entice such business. Further, we also anticipate what some in the industry call “second-tier” cities like Peoria (Warning: don’t ever use that term in my presence—we’re second to no one.) to suddenly spark interest in the eyes of bigger convention planners—the kind that up until now would not have given us a passing glance, for the same reasons.

Moreover, a recent story in the Seattle Times on travel trends says few Americans will forgo their vacations next year, but travelers will be taking shorter trips and searching for deals, even if it means visiting a completely different destination than they originally had in mind.

“Value is king today to the traveling consumer,” says Peter Yesawich, chairman of Ypartnership, a Florida travel consulting and research firm. “To Americans, a vacation is a birthright, but there’s no question that many will be trading down in terms of budgetary constraints and length of stay.” That is also good news for the Peoria area because often, visitors must use vacation time to attend certain trade shows and sporting events. And again, our value is one of our greatest strengths. Also, we are not considered a “hot spot” vacation destination, as we lack a large amusement park or nearby ocean. But we do offer value and attractive itineraries for a nice, three-day getaway.

Recently, we met with the CEO/president of a national organization that’s looking to hold its annual convention in Peoria. He discovered us while surfing the Internet and decided to give us a look. “I love the energy of this city,” he told me, “and the big cities are pricing themselves right out of the market.”

The word is spreading. iBi