ELBURN – Tourism is big business in Illinois and Kane County is contributing to its upswing, according to speakers at the annual tourism breakfast presented July 31 by the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn.
Tourism is the seventh largest industry in the state, said keynote speaker Cory Jobe, director of the Illinois Office of Tourism.
He took the opportunity to present Heritage Prairie Farm a Maker plate, part of a recent statewide campaign targeted to millennials that celebrates the state's makers, creators and artisans. The farm is the first designee in Kane County, joining the ranks of 130 makers representing such categories as craftspeople, artists, family-owned businesses, small-batch breweries, distilleries, artisan food producers and farmers.
Heritage Prairie Farm is known for its organic produce, honey and other products, as well as farm-to-fork dining and hosting celebrations such as weddings.
The ceramic plate proudly proclaims "Illinois made" as part of the logo for the program. Applications to be recognized in the Maker program will be accepted into September on the Illinois Department of Tourism website at enjoyillinois.com. The state's tourism slogan is "Are you up for amazing?"
After the breakfast, Jobe toured Heritage Prairie Farm's store with Nicole Krause, the farm's marketing coordinator, and was pleased to see not only Heritage Prairie's own products but other artisan wares from producers across the state, including Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup from Shirley, Illinois, and goat cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign.
Jobe told the breakfast's guests about a target audience of the Maker campaign.
"Millennials want unique and authentic," he said, noting they seek out experiences that are fresh and local.
He said enjoyillinois.com, which was named the 2017 travel website of the year, offers 40 videos in the Maker series alone, highlighting everything from microbreweries and glass blowing to bicycle and hat making.
A new statewide campaign that includes Kane County is the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, whose sites include the Fabyan Villa in Geneva and Muirhead Farmhouse in Hampshire. Both local sites are open for tours as part of the state's self-guided adventure.
Jobe said Illinois is home to more Wright designed architectural sites than anywhere else in the world.
Picking up on the action-oriented traveler theme is the relatively new slogan of the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau – See it. Do it. Live It.
Interim Executive Director DeAnn Wagner said it's all about active experiences, adding that St. Charles makes a perfect home base for travelers to explore nearby communities. The organization is celebrating its 35th year, and as it evolves with changing trends, Wagner said the digital version of its visitors guide provides valuable feedback.
Lynne Schwartz, GSCCVB marketing manager and former executive director of the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, said a new website will be launched for visitstcharles.com. Areas of focus will include art, history, night life and the experiential concept of "live like a local," Schwartz said.
A variety of platforms including social media will be used to make sure St. Charles "stays front of mind," Schwartz said.
As part of her overview, Wagner looked ahead to Scarecrow Fest, planned from Oct. 5 to 7, noting there will be a return of a taste of St. Charles involving local restaurants.
To kick off the tourism breakfast, guests gathered under a festive tent at the farm, where they were welcomed by France Langan, general manager of Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, board secretary of the GSCCVB.
Jobe got down to numbers as he talked about the economic power of tourism.
He said a record 114 million people visited the state of Illinois in 2017, including 3 million international travelers. It brought in $2.95 billion in local and state tax revenues. Visitor expenditures amounted to more than $38 billion and more than 300,000 jobs were supported, which was up 6,000 from 2016.
Wagner said visits to the GSCCVB website have increased dramatically. The organization reported that Kane County travel expenditures stood at almost $482 million in 2017, a 3.2 percent increase, with local tax revenue at almost $11 million. The St. Charles area brought in $1.9 million in local hotel and motel tax revenue, a 1 percent increase.
In the past 10 years, domestic travel to Illinois has increased by 23 million visitors.
Jobe recommended checking out enjoyillinois.com for a variety of entertaining new campaigns and details on Illinois bicentennial celebrations including 22 farm families creating corn mazes to honor this year's historic milestone.