ST. CHARLES – In recent years, the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau has, through surveys, tracked statistics about Scarecrow Fest attendees, including the number from the Fox Valley, the number of repeat visitors and the number of Illinois communities they represented.
This year, Executive Director Amy Egolf said, the visitors bureau wants to know something else: Of those who have been to Scarecrow Fest in the past, when was the last time they came to St. Charles for reasons other than the festival?
Exposing visitors to the city’s other amenities – such as its parks and Pheasant Run Resort – is, Egolf said, “the whole mission of the festival from the standpoint of the bureau.”
The 28th annual Scarecrow Fest begins today and runs through Sunday in various downtown St. Charles locations, with scarecrow displays in Lincoln Park and the new city parking lot just west of Third Street between Cedar and State streets.
Other activities include live entertainment, a carnival and a make-your-own-scarecrow activity.
Scarecrow Fest is the only event the visitors bureau produces, Egolf said.
She noted it is not the financial windfall some may assume.
“The biggest challenge that we have is making sure the festival is at least coming in on budget,” she said. “In tracking the festival since I have been here, it’s been in the red as often as it’s been in the black. We’re committed to the festival because we understand it’s a marketing tool for the area.”
The visitors bureau promotes the festival in magazines, newspapers and the 80,000 visitor guides it produces each year, Egolf said. Additionally, she said, the visitors bureau distributes e-blasts and direct mail postcards to its database of more than 14,000 people and sends information to tour operators to encourage them to sell bus trips to St. Charles during Scarecrow Fest.
“This year, we expect to greet 12 motorcoaches, including two from Wisconsin,” Egolf said.
Attendance in recent years has ranged from 60,000 in 2006, 2007 and 2009 to 150,000 in 2011, a year that Scarecrow Fest had three days of perfect weather, according to the visitors bureau.
The visitors bureau estimates the economic impact of each Scarecrow Fest based on the expenses by day and overnight visitors, Egolf said. Last year, the visitors bureau estimated spending at $4.1 million.
But, Egolf said, Scarecrow Fest brings much more than dollars to the community.
“The value the fest brings to our community in terms of exposure is next to incalculable,” she said. “Anecdotally, we know that visitors who are drawn to St. Charles because of the fest come back throughout the year, and we have had residents and business owners tell us that they purchased a home or started a business here after attending the festival.”
Illinois Office of Tourism Deputy Director Jen Hoelzle, who is helping promote Scarecrow Fest on TV, agreed that local events bring intangible benefits to a community, such as pride and morale.
“You can’t measure that,” Hoelzle said. “That’s one of the best parts of my job – to help people see what’s so great about their own area.”
Visit www.scarecrowfest.com for information about Scarecrow Fest, including a map and schedule of events.
Scarecrow Fest fast facts
Estimated visitors spending:
2006 – $3,628,557
2007 – $2,676,935
2008 – $4,258,423
2009 – $3,313,890
2010 – $5,173,086
2011 – $4,765,824
2012 – $4,106,322
2006 – 60,000
2007 – 60,000
2008 – 100,000
2009 – 60,000
2010 – 120,000
2011 – 150,000
2012 – 90,000
Source: The Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau