Have you heard the exciting news? Apparently, the Tri-County Area will soon be a major Midwestern tourist destination.

I know what you’re thinking: We already have the annual Peoria Jaycees Beer Fest; what could possibly inspire even more folks to come to our town? I’ll tell you what: Bass Pro Shops. According to one study I read, the average Bass Pro Shops (yes, it’s plural, even though it’s just one store) welcomes four billion shoppers each day…travelers from as far away as Argentina, Poland, and sometimes even Galesburg. Each Bass Pro Shops store is roughly the same size as an NFL stadium, and my understanding is that the one in East Peoria will be visible from space.

As if getting a Bass Pro wasn’t enough of a boon to the area’s tourism industry, everyone’s favorite vacant lot in the middle of downtown Peoria will soon be a museum, complete with a large-format movie theater that may or may not be of the IMAX brand. IMAX or not, the fact that the “Block” is finally being built is a triumph in and of itself for supporters, who have been fighting for the museum ever since Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase “The World’s Most Beautiful Drive” as he cruised Grandview Drive in his Model T adorned with a Build the Block bumper sticker.

With the museum, Bass Pro Shops, and all of the area’s currently existing hot spots, it would certainly appear that the future of our region’s tourism looks bright. From a business perspective, tourism is great for many reasons. Economically speaking, tourists essentially come to your town, leave a bunch of their money, and then go home without placing a burden on your infrastructure or social services. What’s not to love?

Additionally, developing a stronger tourism industry creates opportunities for new businesses in the Peoria area that would not otherwise be viable. If you’ve been to a tourist town like Orlando, you know that the people who live there don’t really walk around in Orlando t-shirts, but somebody is buying all those cheesy shirts in every souvenir shop in town, and that somebody is you (and me!). Likewise, as Peorians, we seldom extol the virtues of our lovely town via our outerwear, but you can bet that visitors will be lining up to snag an “It Plays In Peoria” hoodie.

The rise of an area’s tourism industry allows entrepreneurs to find and meet the needs of out-of-towners. Folks coming to Bass Pro need a place to sleep, a place to eat and a place to park the boats they buy there, as well as a place to explore when they finally emerge from Bass Pro Shops (assuming they ever leave). Undoubtedly, businesses will crop up to accommodate these needs, but anyone looking to make a buck off of the Tri-County Area’s visitors needs to play it smart and follow these three rules:

  1. Be speedy. When a new business market is developing, the first people to jump in the pool have a big head start over everyone else, even if their products or services aren’t necessarily the greatest. It’s called the first-mover advantage, and you want it. Of course, you also want your products and services to be the best they can be, but if you spend years traveling the world to choose just the right type of cotton for the BU Braves t-shirts you want to sell from your street cart in the courthouse square, you can rest assured that someone else will beat you to the punch. Their hastily chosen, poor-quality paraphernalia will be selling like hot cakes, even though you have the better product. Speaking of BU Braves gear…
  2. Be legit. As nice as it would be to buy a screen printing machine for your basement, start running off thousands of BU Braves shirts, and set up a stand outside the Civic Center, your “business” would last about two seconds before you got sued into oblivion and the State of Illinois shut you down. Even though you must be speedy, you must also take the time to make sure you have complied with all the right rules, like obtaining licenses if you want to sell trademarked apparel, getting approval from the state to sell your goods/services, and paying all the required taxes. It’s a good idea to set up a corporation or an LLC to shield your personal assets in the event you do find yourself on the wrong side of some regulation or lawsuit.
  3. Finally, be cautious. While I’m certainly not advocating xenophobia (we love visitors…and their money!), the fact of the matter is that resolving conflicts with folks who live far away is much more difficult than doing so with people who live in your town. For example, let’s say you have a small business, and someone from Peoria buys something from you, but bounces his check. Resolving that conflict, whether through small claims court or vigilante-style justice (which I am NOT advocating), is pretty easy when the person lives close by. Now, say someone from another state, or even another country, bounces a check. What’s your recourse? Hire a lawyer in Montana and spend more in legal fees than you’ll recover in small claims court? Thus, businesses that frequently deal with tourists must make sure to have in place protections against this sort of thing, and your attorney can advise you how to do so.

So, while the prospect of increased tourism is exciting, and you might start seeing the dollar sign floating around your head, just remember that a successful business is a well-planned, fast-moving business. Now who wants to buy some ICC Cougar neckties? iBi