The date is January 15, 1680. Henri de Tonti and his counterpart, French explorer René -Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, officially discover the Illinois River valley in central Illinois and make the decision to begin construction of Fort Crevecoeur. The fort is completed in early March and given the name “Fort Broken Heart,” after the constant trials and tribulations faced throughout its construction.
Just a month later, La Salle heads north and recommends that Starved Rock play host to another fortification. Fort Crevecoeur is pillaged of all supplies and ammunition and burned. De Tonti does not return to central Illinois until 1691, when he establishes Fort Pimiteoui—the site of modern-day Peoria.
Rediscovery, Déjà Vu
Many of us know the story of de Tonti’s discovery of the Illinois River valley. But in current times with COVID-19, the way 1680 treated de Tonti and La Salle feels a lot like the way we have experienced 2020. The year starts off with a plan in place, and soon that plan is being burned to the ground.
Perhaps that comparison is a bit exaggerated. But let’s not forget how the story ends… with de Tonti returning to the Illinois River valley to build another fort, which becomes a center of trade through colonial times. In sum, we have discovery followed by rediscovery—much like how the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (PACVB) settled on the new name and identity of Discover Peoria. No matter what challenges we face, no matter what adversity comes our way, the Peoria region has always stepped up to face these challenges head-on. It has been in our blood since 1680.
The PACVB’s new brand identity, Discover Peoria, is rooted in our region’s 340-year history. We aim to promote memorable, wholesome experiences that visitors will be drawn to and residents take pride in. We use our strengths to market ourselves and our assets for visitors and residents alike, which is why this renewed identity is not just about discovery for our visitors, but rediscovery for our residents. As we reflect on our history and how Discover Peoria moves forward, we are reminded that what is old is new again, what was forgotten is now remembered, and what is new is celebrated.
The Why and The How
Destination marketing organizations, such as Discover Peoria, are typically charged with attracting visitors to town and encouraging them to discover the region, spend their money, and return home to tell friends so they want to visit. But DMOs also play a significant role in highlighting our quality of life. When a destination is viewed as a great place to live and work, that translates into a desired place to visit. Therefore, because of the shift in the role DMOs play for the regions they represent, Discover Peoria has reviewed the foundation on which we operate: our “why” and our “how” statements.
Simply put, why Discover Peoria exists is to “establish the Peoria area as the most desired region in the country for wholesome, memorable experiences.” And how do we go about doing that? “As an industry leader, Discover Peoria promotes our region as a desired destination for visitors, contributes to the economic growth of the communities we represent, enhances the quality of life for residents, and amplifies pride across our region.”
Destination marketing has evolved, and we have to adapt as well. CVBs have evolved to tell the stories of the region they represent. An inspiring and motivating perception of the region has proven to attract visitors to visit, meeting planners to book business, and residents to build community pride and even grow a more diverse quality of life.
A Rising Tide
Throughout this process of bringing forth a new website and identity, I challenged my team to keep in mind the entire region and how we will be able to build the future together, alongside other communities, counties and organizations. As the marketing organization in charge of recruiting visitors to town, we can use our resources to promote advancement in the region with other organizations and their respective expertise, like the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and Greater Peoria Business Alliance.
Do not be mistaken—our priority is still rooted in bringing visitors to the area through meetings and sports. But tourism is considered the “first date” with economic development, which is why this new era of destination marketing presents a rising tide that will lift all boats.
In 2020, we may not be building a fort quite like de Tonti and La Salle, but just like them, we are seeing (and will continue to see) trials and tribulations. In the end, however, I foresee a resurgence, a return and a rediscovery of why we call the Peoria area home. Discover Peoria stands with you, and we look forward to ushering in this new era of destination marketing, together. PM
J.D. Dalfonso is president and CEO of Discover Peoria. Learn more at discoverpeoria.com.