Guest Commentary: The power of tourism marketing

Guest Commentary: The power of tourism marketing

By JAYNE DeLUCE

People across the country and the world are making plans for summer travel, and it is essential that Illinois destinations and attractions,like those here in Champaign County, remain top of mind.

While the power of tourism to fuel state and local economies has been well-documented, its economic benefits can never be realized without an effective tourism marketing strategy. Like any business, marketing is a critical way to ensure the greater Champaign County area stands out among the competition and continues to attract new visitors. In Illinois, we've learned from experience that without the fiscal resources needed to support a marketing strategy, the tourism industry takes a direct hit.

For example, state funding provided for regional advertising has provided qualified leads for visitors from around the country. A Midwest Living ad, valued at $5,320, resulted in 2,313 requests for information, starting a conversation with visitors who will contribute to the $330 million in direct spending in our community.

On the state level, Illinois leisure travel was up 3.1 percent during the first six months of 2015, when Illinois was proactively marketing itself as a travel destination. Unfortunately, those funding efforts were cut by the second half of the year and, by the end of 2015, leisure travel was only up by 1.3 percent. When you consider the more than 111 million annual visitors to our state, even a percentage point drop equates to a significant loss in visitors and, as a result, a significant loss in tourism-generated revenue.

Hotel tax revenue also saw a decline during that time, experiencing only a 2.6 percent growth in 2016 — Illinois' lowest growth in years. The majority of that growth came during the last few months of the year, when we were once again able to ramp up marketing efforts. By that point, our work was cut out for us, as we were well behind the national hotel tax revenue growth rate of 4.8 percent.

Luckily, Illinois destinations, events and attractions are uniquely positioned to meet a growing demand for dynamic and immersive travel.

People want to visit places for new experiences and return with a story to share. Research shows that 78 percent of millennial travelers today are looking to learn new things, and Champaign County's thriving hi-tech agritourism industry, exciting NCAA sporting events, historic sites and mouthwatering culinary scene offer visitors plenty of opportunities to do just that. We have the advantage in today's travel marketplace, and now we have the support in place to communicate that message.

Last year, the Illinois Office of Tourism began an all new "Up For Amazing" campaign message. The strategy was to create a call to action that encourages people to be travelers, not tourists, and to use Illinois vacations as a means of creating authentic memories. The message really resonates with today's millennial travelers and helps Illinois stand out to domestic and international audiences.

Tourism marketing is a worthwhile investment. In Illinois, the travel industry has created jobs at a faster rate than the rest of the state's employers for more than a decade. Tourism also saves the average Illinois household $1,300 in taxes each year. Thanks to the new "Up For Amazing" ads and re-vamped marketing efforts, we can expect to see those numbers grow, but we need to do our part to ensure the greater Champaign County area is reaping the economic rewards of state travel.

With continued support, we will improve our attractions, produce exciting events and draw visitors who will directly impact our local economy and the quality of life for our residents.

Jayne DeLuce is president and CEO of Visit Champaign County.

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