Remember that iconic tune sung by the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie fame? Each and every business day, the 17 staffers at the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau head off to “mine” potential visitors to come be our guest. We literally look around the world for meetings, conventions, motorcoach tours and sporting events to bring to our eight-county region and bring in additional revenue for our cities and towns. While our efforts have been successful and the visitors continue to head our way, we know there is much more we can do—and should do. But more on that later…

Putting Out the Welcome Mat
It is important to appreciate that over 50+ years ago, several business executives from the organization now known as the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce realized not only the economic significance of a visitor-based economy, but that Peoria had a number of reasons to put out the welcome mat. Since 1980, the PACVB has functioned as an independent 501(c)(6) destination marketing organization (DMO) with the responsibility to market eight counties in central Illinois to the world with the express purpose to get individuals, companies and organizations to visit, meet, tour and play in the Peoria area. Through our sales and marketing efforts, we continue to contribute heavily to the local economy.

My presumption is that many residents would be both surprised and impressed with the revenue brought into the Peoria area from visitors. On a macro level, the visitor industry is No. 9 of the top 10 business impact studies in income to the USA, ahead of the auto industry and other significant business models. On a micro level, the visitor industry in the Peoria area employs over 7,000 individuals directly and thousands more indirectly. Among those businesses that benefit from meetings and tourists include hotels, restaurants, bars, catering companies, office supply stores, florists, gift shops, printers, hardware stores, gas stations, drug stores, event planners and dozens more. Many of you are employed by these suppliers and make your living and subsequently contribute to the local economy as a result of money derived from visitors.

The 2009 Illinois Office of Tourism (IOT) travel impact study shows that visitors to Peoria County alone spent a total of $258 million, with $150 million in Tazewell and $41 million in Bureau—just three of the counties we represent. Those expenditures brought in close to $6 million in tax receipts for Peoria, $3 million for Tazewell and nearly $1 million for Bureau County. In 2009, thanks to visitors, each taxpayer in the Peoria area saved $980, and it is projected that that amount will increase to over $1,000 in 2010 once the IOT economic impact study is completed. It is plain to see that visitors bring in a plethora of cash to our city and county coffers that in turn brings about a better quality of life for all of us. In short, visitors pay taxes that residents don’t have to pay. And they allow cities to build and maintain additional amenities and services, including roads, attractions, facilities and improvements that may otherwise be eliminated and/or forsaken. The results of visitor spend are evident throughout the Peoria area.

Playing in Peoria
When we tallied the results of our work over the past two years, the PACVB brought in 141 meetings and conventions of 200 persons or more in 2009, and 117 in 2010. The extremely conservative economic impact of those meetings tallied over $6 million spent in our area both in 2009 and 2010, or more than $12 million in incremental revenue from the convention trade.

Sporting events are one of the top three markets we prospect for business (the other two are trade conventions and religious, faith-based organizations). They too bring in a huge number of visitors and guests, both local and out-of-town to our area (i.e. 38,000+ persons came to the IHSA boys’ basketball games in March). In 2009, our sports department brought in 80 events and 66 events that “played in Peoria” in 2010, including gymnastics, wrestling, dancing, cheerleading, softball, track and youth hockey. We will also welcome 3,000+ visitors to the 1A and 2A IHSA boys baseball finals this June. You can read more about the positive impact of sporting events held in our area in the upcoming June issue of iBi.

You may also be interested to know that Peoria defies some traditional meeting patterns. Typically, meetings are held during seasons or in locales that are favorable for travel. Not so Peoria. Our winter months are actually our strongest meeting/convention time as we welcome such distinguished groups as the Illinois Music Educators Association, which is the largest group we have hosted—larger than IHSA boys basketball, Midwest Truckers, IHSA speech and chess, among others. This summer, we will welcome the largest group to convene in Peoria when the National Convention of Lutheran Women brings 5,000 delegates to our area.

Given our current budget, those annual figures equate to more than $6 returned to the area for every $1 we were provided. It is important for each and every resident in our area to know that the PACVB does NOT receive ANY funding for our operations from city/county general fund collections or income. We are funded entirely from taxes paid by visitors when they stay at one of our area hotels. And while residents pay nothing for our destination marketing efforts, you enjoy the benefits of tourism infrastructure development from private developers and cities alike.

» Convention Impact!
Local residents aren’t always aware of the tremendous economic impact that conventions bring to the region. Here are 10 of the largest conventions hosted in the Peoria area over the last two years, with attendance and economic impact figures.

  1. Illinois Music Educators Association. 5,000 attendees, $2.1 million.
  2. Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic. 25,000 attendees, $600,000.
  3. Illinois Healthcare Association. 3,200 attendees, $972,000.
  4. Illinois Principal’s Association. 1,000 attendees, $604,000.
  5. Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association. 2,500 attendees, $989,000.
  6. Midwest Trucker’s Association. 3,000 attendees, $722,000.
  7. Illinois Fire Chiefs Association. 1,500 attendees, $675,000.
  8. United Methodist Church. 3,000 attendees, $1,460,000.
  9. Clean Water Celebration. 2,500 attendees, $265,000.
  10. University Bible Fellowship. 1,000 attendees, $641,000.

Source: Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

A Larger Slice of the Tourism Pie
I mentioned earlier that there is more that we can do—and should do—to become a stronger destination. First, it is imperative to note that we are in an extremely competitive industry. Cities and towns, large and small, are making plans to seek and find visitors to bring to their communities. Therefore, if we want a larger share of that tourism pie, we must not shy away from growth. We, as a destination, must continually redesign ourselves to stay relevant and top-of-mind. Doing what we have always done or staying the course will not cut it. Our visitor market is constantly seeking new and exciting experiences, from deluxe new hotels to innovative restaurants to unique things to do…notice I said do, not see. Visitors today want to engage with the destination. They don’t want to just see something; they want to do something when they are there.

Among the plans the PACVB has to drive more visitors to our front door is to maintain our relevancy. In other words, to utilize emerging technology, to increase and improve upon what makes the Peoria area unique and compelling for visitors, to identify what our visitors want and expect, and to create passionate advocates for our destination. Make no mistake: these are very aggressive plans and they will be difficult to execute. But we will do it. And with the help of our fellow Peoria-area residents, we will come home from a hard day of work pleased with the new faces of visitors in our midst. iBi