Visitors bureau chief details outreach plans

Visitors bureau chief details outreach plans

URBANA — Champaign County's tourism bureau plans five initiatives in the coming year with the goal of attracting more visitors.

Speaking at the annual Toast to Tourism event Wednesday, Jayne DeLuce, executive director of Visit Champaign County, said that, in addition to pursuing traditional markets, the bureau plans new pushes in:

— Agritourism, with the aim of offering "agricultural adventure" packages that could include farm tours and possibly overnights on a farm.

— African-American heritage tourism, with Champaign County being promoted as a central location for family reunions.

— Cultural tourism, by coordinating walking, driving and cycling tours of public-arts sculpture not only in Champaign-Urbana, but also in Mahomet, Homer and Allerton Park.

— Lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender tourism, by identifying gay-friendly wedding destinations.

— International tourism, with a specific focus on attracting Chinese tourists.

In comments after the speech, DeLuce said the initiatives depend partly on getting grant money and financial support from bureau partners in the community. She said she hopes to work with the Champaign County Farm Bureau on the agritourism options. Current agritourism efforts involve groups, but DeLuce said she believes individuals are interested in learning more about agriculture, given the popularity of ecotourism and sustainable agriculture.

DeLuce also presented Tourism Impact Awards to five recipients:

— Joyce Curtis of Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch, Champaign, for educating visitors about apple and pumpkin cultivation, honey bees and good agricultural practices. DeLuce said 6,000 to 8,000 visitors a year take educational tours of the orchard, which attracts a total of 170,000 visitors a year.

— Scott Friedlein, a retired Champaign police sergeant who has helped special events in the community go off smoothly. Friedlein streamlined the process for getting special-event permits and helped coordinate extra security for hotels during the annual high school wrestling tournament.

— Michael Johnson, manager of Big Grove Tavern in downtown Champaign, for "going the extra mile" in accommodating groups that come to town. Johnson has been a key participant in the "Savor The Flavor" initiative that gives groups tickets to sample food and drinks at more than a dozen establishments in downtown Champaign.

— Jenese Harris, morning anchor for WICD-TV, who hosts a weekly segment with the bureau's marketing director, Terri Reifsteck, highlighting upcoming events.

— Ed Scharlau, the Busey Bank vice chairman who more than 30 years ago helped lay the groundwork for the convention and visitors bureau. DeLuce credited Scharlau with seeing what tourism development could mean for economic growth.

The Toast to Tourism, held at the Spurlock Museum on campus, featured UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise as keynote speaker. Wise said she has worked in several university communities, but her move to Champaign-Urbana was "the first time I ever felt the university and community were one." She said she hasn't noticed a town-gown split in her three years here.

She added that if the UI falters, Champaign-Urbana will falter, and the reverse is true.

Wise said she hopes the university's excellence attracts faculty here, but faculty won't stay if they don't feel welcome when they bank, buy a home or attend sporting events.

"I can count on this community to be a welcoming one," she said, adding that she felt very welcome here.

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