Travel spending increases, but not so much for hotels

The Great Grape River Grape Escape is a popular event that brings tourists to the area. (H-W File Photo)
Posted: Dec. 26, 2012 9:28 am Updated: Jan. 9, 2013 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Visitors to the area spent more money in Adams, Hancock and Pike counties in 2011 than the year before, and tourism officials hope it continues through the end of this year and into 2013.

In its annual report, the Quincy Area Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that $137 million was spent by visitors in 2011, an increase of 6 percent. Visitors in Adams County spent $89.77 million, while visitors in Hancock and Pike counties spent $25.12 million and $22.19 million, respectively.

Tourism accounts for more than 1,000 jobs in the three-county area. The increase in tourism spending is in line with the 8 percent increase statewide. The bureau receives most of its funding through the Illinois Office of Tourism and from the local hotel and motel tax. This year, it received $108,000, an increase of more than $20,000, from the Illinois Office of Tourism.

Holly Cain, executive director of the bureau, said daytrips continue to be popular as budgets remain tight for many travelers.

"I think we're just seeing shorter trips, but I think the number of trips is still up," she said. "People maybe aren't saving up or can't afford that weeklong or two-week vacation, but they are still enjoying travel closer to home."

Cain said the bureau is concentrating its marketing on those one- and two-day trips.

While spending has increased, it hasn't translated to a jump in business at area hotels.

Mariann Barnard, president of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Quincy, said area hotels have not seen as much of an increase.

"Some of our overnight accommodations have not been the same as the increase in tourism," she said. "There's not necessarily a direct correlation between the increase in tourism and an increase in hotel accommodations.

"We're holding our breath for 2012, and I think 2013 looks promising. All the national information I read regarding hotel and lodging says we should see an increase in accommodations."

As part of luring more people to the area, the bureau launched the "50/50 Challenge" that asks visitors to stop at tourism sites in the area and take pictures.

"We we're just shocked to see how many people really went out and spent money in the these places," Cain said. "They didn't just drive by and take a quick photo, but they experienced these great attractions."

The bureau also promotes many local events and programs. Support is provided to many popular area events, including the annual Tin Dusters Color Run and the growing wine-tasting festival, the Great Grape River Grape Escape.

"Probably 10 or 12 events, we give money to help offset some of their costs or sponsorships," Cain said. "It is still bringing people in. So we find that necessary to help keep those events here."

The bureau also introduced multiple brochures for tourism, including a guide to view significant locations in Quincy for Father Augustus Toltin, the first black priest; a guide to area architecture; and the bald eagle spotting guide "Spots to Spot."

The "Spots to Spot" guide provides locations to view eagles during the winter months, a time the bureau hopes to see an increase in visitors.

"That's kind of a slower time for visitors and something that we want to boost traffic and boost travel, especially with a little bit warmer temperatures that we have had," Cain said. "That helps visitors get out of the house. We saw an eagle this morning, so I know they're back."

A new event the bureau will start promoting is the Great River Eagle Days on Jan. 26. The event, hosted by the Standing Bear Council, will offer Native American dancers, history on Chief Keokuk and a chance to see eagles up close from the Raptor Rehabilitation Center.

Visitors can then head to Lock and Dam 21 to see bald eagles in their natural habitat.