That was the simple, yet profound, question Dr. John Erwin asked the crowd at the recent Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau annual meeting, where he gave the keynote address. “I’m not kidding, I want to know. What are we all doing here?” Besides living or working here, Dr. Erwin suggests a simple answer. While we may not always want to admit it because it’s not “cool” or we’re afraid our friends might make fun of us, the answer is this: We like it here. “We’ve been told over and over,” says Dr. Erwin, “that the best shopping…sports…healthcare…education…entertainment…are in the big cities. So why are we living here? Because like caffeine, we can only take so much of the big cities before our nerves are shot.”
I agree with Dr. Erwin. Here’s another dirty little secret: so do other people who aren’t from here. People like coming to the Peoria area. They like what we have to offer. And quite frankly, to some of them, this is the big city.
Dr. Erwin takes it a step further, challenging us to pause and reflect on what we have to offer, instead of what we lack. “We may see skyscrapers or ocean beaches in New York, Los Angeles or Miami,” he says. “We may be able to buy Gucci in Chicago. But why did we become a joke to the sophisticates outside of our town who secretly yearn for what we have here? It’s because we let them make fun of us. We give in to them by making them the gods of our idolatry.”
If you stop and think about it, we have everything a big city does, just with less intensity and smaller in scale. We have professional baseball, hockey, indoor football and basketball. We have terrific venues and facilities, most notably the Peoria Civic Center, O’Brien Field and Eastside Centre. We have the arts, a rich history and innovation in healthcare and technology.
“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but what does this have to do with tourism?”
Since the day I joined the PACVB, I have campaigned, lobbied, appealed and begged for all of us to do what Dr. Erwin suggests, and that is to realize that we are not a big city, that we don’t need to be a big city and that it’s okay to feel that way. We need to shake the inferiority complex many of us seem to have and be proud of our home. Once we’re in that mindset, we will do a much better job marketing the Peoria area to family, friends, and others who might visit us or who can be influential in bringing a group or convention to town. The best means of advertising is word of mouth, but you have to know and believe in your product. We have a great product. Dr. Erwin knows it, and he’s only been here eight years of his life.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t need to be Chicago or Miami or anyone else,” he says. “It’s time to stand up and say ‘We are PEORIA, we are here, and we are special.’” Indeed. IBI