Tourist season has arrived

Tourist season has arrived

April is a busy month for tourism in Champaign County, and maybe nobody knows that more than Visit Champaign County President and CEO Jayne DeLuce.

Under the glow of a couple Boneyard Arts Festival displays, she sat down with The News-Gazette to talk about what's going on this month and why it's so important to the area.

Q: Would you say that April is an important month for tourism in Champaign County?

A: It's about the busiest month of the year. And partly because of on-campus activities and because of the (Illinois) Marathon and Ebertfest. You already have Mom's Weekend, you already have tons of people having meetings and conferences because they're doing year-end banquets, like semester banquets. The College of Engineering might be doing an awards banquet, so they're bringing in people.

Q: And obviously the biggest two are Ebertfest and the marathon.

A: Correct. Economically, the marathon is bigger because, Ebertfest, you have a smaller group of people that can get into the Virginia (Theatre). We estimated that one at about $1.3 million (in economic impact). It's multiple days, but it's the same group of people. Whereas the marathon, you have 20,000, and they're coming still for multiple nights, but there's just so many more people. That one estimates at about $10 million. They're significant economically, and they're significant in a branding of what our community is.

Q: Weren't we saying we were never going to have Ebertfest and the Illinois Marathon on the same weekend again?

A: No one wants that on the same weekend. We're already talking about 2015, 2016, what's going to happen. It's all because of Easter. Ebertfest was first, and it's always been that kind of third or fourth weekend in April. Then you have the marathon, and they're on a marathon schedule. It's always going to have to be the last weekend of April. The third weekend of April is Easter this year. Next year, Easter's in March, so they won't be on the same weekend.

Q: When talking about economic impact, why is it important if visitors stay overnight?

A: Heads in beds. It's people that are staying in the hotels, eating in the restaurants multiple times because they're in a hotel so they're not cooking as much. Shopping while they're here, and then things like filling up their gas tanks. It's all the aspects of what they're doing over a multiple-day period.

Along with that, the marathon is also such a great amount because there's so many indirect services. You think about all the T-shirts that were produced, all the medals that were produced, the porta-potties that are used, the staging, the entertainment that comes in. All of those pay in to the estimated economic impact of the large-scale events.

Q: What kind of preparation have you been doing here at Visit Champaign County?

A: Oh my gosh, it's insane. Meetings and conferences, a lot of what we'll do, if we helped bring that meeting and conference here ... we have welcome bags. We have boxes and boxes of welcome bags that are going to these different meetings and conferences. So you've got that whole aspect of servicing events themselves. Then, Mom's Weekend, we're getting all the phone calls about, 'I didn't get a hotel room. I need a hotel room, what's available?' And then for Ebertfest, it's more of a promotional aspect with that. ... The marathon is all consuming for all of us. ... The biggest one for us event-wise is planning the 27th mile, the post-race event that Cory (Hatfield) on our staff plans. Everybody helps. We have the music entertainment; we serve the beer; we have the staging.

Q: Why are these events so important to Champaign County?

A: Economically, the marathon will be the top dog. Ebertfest is, not only the people who come from where all they're coming is great economically, what I think is more important about Ebertfest is that it's a world-renowned festival that brands our community back to us being this kind of international mecca, if you will, of people coming here for diverse types of events and the whole arts and culture scene. You see an increase in hotel tax revenues. Food and beverage tax revenues is going to be off the charts.

Q: Who do you think benefits the most?

A: Definitely our residents, because of the fact that increased tax dollars create jobs. The tourism industry, and this is documented by the U.S. Travel Association, we have 2,500 jobs related to tourism that happen in a year. You think, 'Well, it's only the hotels.' No, it's also the restaurants, the dry cleaners. It's the florists that create the flowers for special events that happen. It's all, I think, about the people having jobs, and I also think it's a builder of community pride.

Q: The weather is finally getting nicer. What should residents be looking forward to over the next few months beyond April?

A: A big one coming up is the Homer Soda Festival on May 31. The Homer Soda Bottling Company has over 250 flavors of bottled soda. And what better place to be able to go have a taste test of those different ones? We had a community welcome booth at that last year, and it was a ball watching everybody. ... The other one is of course the (Bloomington Gold) Corvette show at the end of June and the same weekend of Blues, Brews and BBQ. Those are going to stay on the same weekend, and we want those to be on the same weekend. It's built-in entertainment for the Corvette show. They go hand in hand.

One that is exciting this year is Allerton is doing a concert series. I think, now that we have better weather, we need to embrace the concerts and festivals that happen in our natural resources. The forest preserves do concerts and gatherings, but I think the Allerton concert series — it starts in April, and then they have it in May, they have it in June as well — is definitely worth checking out. How can you not enjoy our outdoors?

Then the park district, instead of doing a series of downtown (Champaign) music festivals, they're putting it all into one like they did for the city's 150th celebration. That we want to broaden to be not only for residents but for visitors. We're starting to package that so that people see that as a summertime destination to come here.

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