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home : news : north central illinois   May 3, 2016

7/12/2013 5:25:00 AM
State official calls tourism, Starved Rock 'key economic engine'

Why was this bus at Starved Rock Lodge on Thursday?
NewsTribune photo/Craig Sterrett
+ click to enlarge

Why was this bus at Starved Rock Lodge on Thursday?

NewsTribune photo/Craig Sterrett

Craig Sterrett
News Editor

Illinois’ tourism and travel director visited Starved Rock Lodge on Thursday to unveil statewide tourism financial statistics including numbers on the impact of local tourism.

While also unveiling a new advertising campaign narrated by longtime Chicago anchorman Bill Kurtis, Illinois Office of Tourism deputy director Jen Hoelzle also presented a Lincoln Award for outstanding tourism promotion to Starved Rock Lodge director of marketing and photographer Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek.

Hoelzle today begins her final day of a five-day, 16-stop tour with 10 other tourism officials (and a Mini-Abe doll) on a bus as part of Illinois Travel Effect Road Show 2013. Earlier in the week, Hoelzle had been in Chicago, southern Illinois including Shawnee National Forest, a tractor pull in the Quad Cities and at Kewanee at a festival built around mural painters coming to town.

Locally, within the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau counties of Putnam, La Salle, Grundy and Will, tourism spending saw a 4 percent increase in the past fiscal year and was responsible for employment of 8,000 people while putting $18 million back into local coffers, Hoelzle said.

In 2012, the state hosted more than 99 million domestic visitors traveling to or within the state (a 6.1 percent increase) and the Illinois tourism industry generated nearly $31 billion in revenue from those domestic travelers, up $1.5 billion or 5 percent from the previous year’s record-breaking high.

“Recent record-breaking numbers for the second year in a row show that tourism is a key economic engine for the entire state,” Hoelzle said.

She also told the two dozen tourism promoters in the room Thursday that the tourism office had several “firsts” this year, including the state’s first cable ad buy that put Illinois ads on TVs throughout the United States and Canada. She said the state previously catered to a “drive-in” market from the Midwest and only as far as Toronto in Canada.

And today, the state tourism website’s Route 66 searches are getting as many hits from people in the United Kingdom as from Chicago. Increasing Internet traffic has resulted from several Illinois regional bloggers and blogging road-trippers who have been collaborating for the first time with the state tourism office. The tourism office’s “Mini-Abe” online campaign videos garnered attention from computer savvy users, too, she said.

She said the state motel-hotel-tax-funded tourism office gained $20 million in revenue from increased stays and a resulting gain from the “pillow tax.”

At the end of her program, Hoelzle gave recognition to Hegeler-Carus Mansion in La Salle for increasing its community events it hosted in a year from 24 to 150. She also gave an award to the energetic Casstevens-Jasiek of Starved Rock Lodge for making a difference and helping make the lodge the attraction that it is within a park that this week was named the No. 1 state park in a regional magazine.

The tourism group can be followed at and on Twitter with the hashtag #EnjoyIllinois.

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