A Publication of WTVP

It’s a great line and a great idea from one of my favorite movies, The Blues Brothers. Much the same as Jake and Elwood Blues’ mission to put the band back together to raise money for the good sisters’ orphanage, I find part of my mission at the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is to put the Peoria hospitality team back together again.

Back in the ‘90s, the PACVB and Peoria-area hospitality team was a force to be reckoned with in the convention business, and I’d like to see that happen again. Everyone worked together to make good things happen for Peoria. And with the opening of the Peoria Riverfront Museum, Caterpillar Visitors Center and the Pere Marquette/Marriott hotel project, great things are happening again. I want to see us all working together—the Civic Center, the hotels, area attractions and the PACVB as one strong, united front—because each one benefits all the others.

I believe my previous experience managing both the Civic Center and the Pere Marquette has given me a unique understanding of both the venue and hotel sides of the business—their operations, capabilities and needs. That knowledge allows us at the PACVB to be the perfect go-between—to meet their needs more effectively, fill their rooms and meeting spaces, and work together more harmoniously. When the Civic Center and hotels are full, all eight counties we serve benefit.

For instance, we recently had an opportunity to bid on a medical meeting that would use Civic Center space and about 400 room nights. Not a large group, but one that would give Peoria exposure to the decision makers and meeting planners for 62 other medical associations. We reached out to the U of I College of Medicine, OSF, the Civic Center, Centerplate and Peoria Flag & Decorating to put a package together to attract this group, and not only were we able to meet its expectations and requirements, we exceeded them. That is the type of collaboration we need to further develop.

Of course, the result of a strong team bringing more visitors, conventions and meetings to Peoria is more money spent in this area. Meeting planners have come to understand the local economic impact that their events generate and are using that knowledge to negotiate with communities that want those events.

For example, for every reported dollar spent at a Peoria-area hotel, an additional three dollars is spent in the community—on restaurants, shopping, sight-seeing, gasoline, etc. So the known $3 million in hotel rooms booked in the area last year due to PACVB events has generated more than $12 million for the local economy. In addition, tax revenue is collected locally for this additional spending. The Illinois Office of Tourism reports the total tax revenue due to tourism (federal, state and local taxes) saves the average Illinois household more than $1,100 in taxes each year.

Better understanding and communication with our stakeholders is also a priority. Earlier this year, PACVB Board Chair Sherril West instituted a report for each community showing the economic impact that PACVB-initiated events have had on their community and what their return on investment was. My intention is that we will communicate those results to each member community every six months.

The good news is that Governor Quinn announced this summer that Illinois had a record number of visitors and tourism spending in 2011: 93.3 million visitors spending $31.8 billion, up more than 8.4 percent from the year before. For Peoria County, domestic travel expenditures were $295 million for 2011, a 10-percent increase over 2010.

The tourism industry is a vital part of the Peoria-area and Illinois’ state economy. It is the only industry active in all 102 Illinois counties. Illinois tourism created an additional 4,500 new jobs this year, employing a total of 292,000 people statewide.

This is a very exciting time for the PACVB. The addition of the Peoria Riverfront Museum and the Caterpillar Visitors Center will have a significant impact on tourism to the area, drawing additional visitors from across the state, country and world. The addition of these world-class attractions in our downtown area will also enhance the PACVB’s ability to attract conventions, meetings and sporting events to the area.

We need to be able to respond as a team to the competitive environment for convention business, to remain competitive with other convention centers and hotels around the state and fill our convention space and hotel rooms. Now is the time. We are on a mission. As Jake would say, “We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark..and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it!” iBi