Wow, you really have a hidden treasure here.” That, or something similar to it, is the most common reaction we get from first-time visitors to the Peoria area. It is the greatest compliment we can receive, indeed. But it is also our greatest curse. While we are pleased that the visitor is impressed, we are disappointed by the fact that this area, for all its beauty and everything it has to offer, remains one of the best-kept secrets in the country. This has to change.
Peoria native Scott Crawford wrote a guest column in the Journal Star recently, lamenting the lack of marketing that is put forth by his beloved hometown. He now lives in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest. But like a kid on Christmas morning, he searches the Travel section of the Chicago Tribune every Sunday, wondering if anything from the Peoria area will be featured. To his dismay, there is nothing. Yet he sees articles and advertisements promoting other even smaller communities downstate.
“Peorians need to take pride in the area,” Crawford writes, “and spread the word about the many civic, cultural, historical and natural assets it offers. Persistent pessimism and ‘can’t do’ attitudes feed a negative environment. Focusing on the positives that certainly exist can do wonders to transform perception and, ultimately, reality.”
Having lived here my entire life, I have witnessed firsthand some of what Crawford is referencing. But since I joined the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau six months ago, I have witnessed nothing but the opposite, especially from our great civic leaders in the entire eight-county area we represent. No one has a “woe is me” attitude. And great things are happening because of the spirit of cooperation and cohesiveness that purveys throughout this region. Still, Crawford has a point.
Anyone who owns or runs a business knows you have to employ good marketing strategies or die on the vine. People have to know about your product and where to find it or they will not buy it. If you’re lucky, word of mouth is all you need. But for most of us, marketing strategies involve many forms of advertising and can be expensive. We budget for this expense because we know it’s necessary to survive, thrive and grow. Ask Nike how important marketing is. The more marketing you can afford, the more potential customers you can reach.
The Peoria Area CVB spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on marketing. We evaluate and re-evaluate our marketing strategies and how we spend those dollars. But what we do is not enough. Communities like Rockford, Aurora, Schaumburg and others throughout the Midwest are spending double what we do, because they have double to spend. There needs to be some serious discussion about the Peoria area investing more funding in a proven commodity: a visitor-based economy.
Crawford is correct when he says, “Peoria is a place that leaves (positive) impressions.” Once we get visitors here, the Peoria area sells itself. But we have to get them here first, and we can’t do that without more marketing. IBI