A Publication of WTVP

With the second-highest hotel occupancy rate in the state last year, the Peoria-area hospitality and tourism industry continues to grow.

According to several national research firms, it is a safe bet that the recession is over for the world’s largest employer, namely the hospitality and tourism industry. Its broad spectrum of employment opportunities includes hotels and restaurants, but many other subsectors as well, such as travel agencies, transportation businesses, health spas, theme parks and casinos, to name just a few. In the U.S., the hospitality and tourism industry is recognized as one of the most diverse industries, based upon the numbers of females, various age groups, nationalities and minorities that work within the field.

The recent economic crisis has helped to increase the value of branding in the industry. Hotels and restaurants are using branding and counting on franchising to widen their respective supply and expand growth.

Some quick facts, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council:

The Regional and Local Perspective
There is little doubt that the same trends can be tracked at the regional and local levels. The Peoria area has seen tremendous growth in new hotels and restaurants over the past several years. With the opening of the new Embassy Suites in East Peoria, not only did we add a high-quality hotel, but also a big-time brand that was previously missing from the local picture. A leader in the hospitality industry, Petersen Hotels opened its latest property, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Morton, in January. The same company has opened The Hotels at Grand Prairie—Candlewood Suites, Country Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn & Suites and Wingate by Wyndham—and the AmericInn Lodge & Suites in Monmouth in recent years.

Downtown Peoria is also set for an unprecedented facelift for hotels. The Holiday Inn City Centre, the largest full-service hotel in the area, is on schedule to change its brand from Holiday Inn to Four Points by Sheraton, a Starwood Hotels brand. Currently, there is no Starwood presence in the area. Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis has called the brand conversion a much-needed and forward-thinking approach. The change in branding will be a huge upgrade for downtown Peoria—and the region at large. A multimillion-dollar renovation is well underway, and brand conversion is expected in mid- to late-May. The Four Points by Sheraton will offer upgraded amenities and a completely renovated hotel for business and leisure travelers.

Of course, the Hotel Père Marquette is scheduled to undergo a significant renovation and upgrade to a full-service Marriott, with a 10-story Courtyard by Marriott attached to it. This would be a great change for a large hotel to go from being independent to a branded hotel. In addition, a pedestrian walkway will connect the complex to the Civic Center.

East Peoria is set to have a new Holiday Inn built in the coming months at the future corner of Edmund Street and Technology Boulevard, on the site of the East Peoria/Downtown project. Operated by Heart of America Restaurants & Inns, the new flagship hotel will have 139 guest rooms and feature an upscale restaurant on its property. Along with the new Bass Pro Shops, it is expected to jumpstart the large development project in the heart of East Peoria.

Regional Growth
According to the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, the Peoria-Pekin MSA showed 57.5-percent occupancy for hotels in 2010, a jump from 51.8 percent in 2009. The Peoria-Pekin MSA had the second-highest occupancy rate in the state in 2010, after Chicago. This is tremendous growth coming at the same time that we increased the supply of hotel rooms in the area.

With all of this growth, brand improvements, and with the addition of Four Points by Sheraton, the Peoria area will now feature representation from nine of the top 10 hotel chains in the world.

Along with the growth and development of the hotel sector, the restaurant segment is not too far behind. Several national chains, including Famous Dave’s and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, have recently made Peoria their home, and local flavors abound. Two25, located in the Mark Twain Hotel, has been a nice addition to the downtown area, while the stretch of Prospect Road in Peoria Heights boasts an impressive array of unique culinary establishments, including the award-winning June Restaurant and Noir Tapas & Rendezvous Lounge.

For our city and the region to continue to grow and compete with other mid-sized cities, we have to grow across all major industries. With Caterpillar’s strong financial outlook, hotels and restaurants showing strong growth, the airport’s completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation, the Civic Center’s expansion, the museum coming to the riverfront, and the expansion of the healthcare sector, the future of hospitality in the Peoria area looks bright. iBi

Sami Qureshi is the general manager of the soon-to-be Four Points by Sheraton (currently the Holiday Inn City Centre) and president of the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.