I love living in Peoria. But I also love to travel and visit new places! I like to read magazines about destinations near and far, and imagine what life would be like if I lived in a different part of the country…or the world. Our choices of vacation destinations are as varied as our personalities, and the experiences we have when we travel leave lasting impressions.

Case in point: After Jack Stack, the “Father of Open Book Management” came to speak at Bradley University in March, he kindly sent a letter to our managing editor and to the Journal Star about his experience. “I visit hundreds of cities every year,” wrote Stack. “I have rarely seen a city where so many people from so many different walks of life deeply care about their city and their community like they do in Peoria.

“Everyone I met connected with each other and you couldn’t help but feel the warmth and passion that everyone has and the desire to improve the lives of everyone in the community.

“I don’t know what you are putting in the Illinois River and drinking, but whatever it is, it had an impact on a visitor from another city.”

What a great impression to have made! It’s often the little things—basic courtesy or a warm smile—that help to make those lasting impressions. I recall the trips I’ve made to visit my daughter in Texas, and the warmth of the tour guides who ride horseback in the Fort Worth Stockyards stands out in my mind, making me want to return again and again.

For nearly three decades, Marjabelle Young Stewart compiled a list of the “10 Best Mannered U.S. Cities.” Stewart coached and taught classes on etiquette and manners around the country, wrote 15 books on the subject, and even served U.S. presidents and their families. She compiled her final list in 2005, ranking Peoria fourth, after Charleston, South Carolina; San Diego; and Seattle. Perhaps Mr. Stack would agree?

Take a look at the top 10 activities of domestic travelers (page 49). We may not have an amusement park—although we have Kartville!—and the beaches along the Illinois River are not exactly destinations for the bikini-clad, but we can offer at least eight of those 10 popular activities. Sometimes we locals forget about everything that our little neck of the woods has to offer!

But just as important as the activities, amenities and destinations are the little things that make up the visitor experience. A friendly face that stops for a moment to give directions or recommend a good restaurant can make all the difference.

Attracting visitors to central Illinois is good business for everyone, and we can all contribute with our attitudes. A genuine, lasting impression is the greatest welcome mat of all. iBi