DIXON – Record numbers of people are traveling to destinations across the state.
In turn, the areas of Whiteside, Lee, Carroll and Ogle counties saw a 13.9 percent increase to tourism in 2012, bringing in a little more than $151 million to the region.
Tourism officials are not surprised by the growth.
With Interstate 88 providing a direct route from Chicago and the Quad Cities, the majority of tourism comes from those population centers, said Diane Bausman, executive director of Blackhawk Waterways Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The main attractions are outdoor activities on or near the Rock and Mississippi rivers, she said. The bike trail from Savanna to the Quad Cities has become a popular draw.
“What we know is that people want to come out and do something,” Bausman said.
“Our cabins and cottages are becoming a bigger attraction, and people are asking more where to go biking and hiking.”
The state brought in more than $31 billion in tourism for 2012, up 5 percent from 2011, generating $2.3 billion in state and local tax revenue. And 99 million visitors was a record.
Ogle County saw the most tourism revenue in the Sauk Valley at $65.3 million in 2012 – a 3.7 percent increase from 2011.
The county’s three state parks, along with Oregon’s historic downtown, were a large contributor, Bausman said.
Lee County showed the largest growth in the region with a 5 percent spike for a total of $29.9 million in revenue.
That success was attributed to an expansion of recreational activities, as well as the continuing growth and promotion of the area’s events and attractions.
Lee County Tourism Council and Dixon Tourism are funded mostly by motel tax revenue and city funds.
Dixon Tourism, alone, gets nearly $92,000 to run the welcome center and promote the city, with two-thirds of that money coming from motel taxes.
“We continue to see more visitors to our area,” said Vicky Walter, president of Dixon Tourism. “We are blessed with a community rich in Reagan history, a beautiful new Riverfront, a vibrant downtown, amazing restaurants, beautiful parks, all nestled along the scenic Rock River, but best of all a tremendous volunteer base.”
Rounding out the region in 2012, Whiteside County notched $35.82 million in tourism (a 2.3 percent growth), while Carroll County recorded $20 million (up 2.9 percent).
Rock Falls is one of only two cities in the region with its own tourism director, Bausman said. Its tourism board receives $160,000 in motel tax revenue plus 5 percent more from the city, said Robbin Blackert, the city’s administrator.
Sterling, which has no motels, has no tourism apparatus.
Rock Falls Tourism’s website continues to see more hits, recently hired Director Tim Wilson said, but he would like to see improvements in tourism infrastructure and communication tools.
Going along with the trend of people looking for more outdoor recreation, Wilson said he would like to see improvements to the Hennepin Canal area and boat launches.
While the area has shown growth in tourism, the industry can be hard to predict, said Beth Henderson, proprietor of White Pines Inn near Mount Morris and a BWCVC board member.
Despite milder weather this summer, she has seen a decrease in lodging at her business.
The ongoing struggle for businesses that depend on tourism is the state of the overall economy, she said, because people need extra money before they take trips.
“We’re still in a recession,” Henderson said. “That always plays a role, one way or the other.”
To Bausman, the recession can work another way.
“People are looking more for one-day, two-day getaways, because they can’t afford the bigger trips,” she said. “The Rock River, Oregon and Dixon are all wonderful getaways for people looking to get out of the city and either do something outdoors, or visit a quaint community.”
Travel by the numbers
Here are statistics measuring the economic impact that tourism had in the Sauk Valley in 2012. This information is provided by the Illinois Office of Tourism and prepared by the U.S. Travel Data Center and U.S. Travel Association.
Money spent by tourists for travel expenditures:
Carroll: $20 million (+2.9 %)
Lee: $29.9 million (+5%)
Ogle: $65.3 million (+3.7%)
Whiteside: $35.8 million (+2.3%)
Region: $151 million (+13.9%)
Wages & salaries paid to those serving travelers public or private:
Carroll: $2.47 million (+ 2.7%)
Lee: $5.98 million (+4.5%)
Ogle: $9.7 million (+3.1%)
Whiteside: $6.21 million (+1.8%)
Region: $23.64 million (+4.14%)
Actual number of jobs supported by tourism:
Tax revenues from state:
Carroll: $1.26 million (+1.1%)
Lee: $1.61 million (+ 4.9 %)
Ogle: $4.19 million (+3.4%)
Whiteside: $2.16 million (+0.5%)
Region: $9.21 million (+2.47%)
Tax revenues from each county:
Carroll: $900,000 (+4.4%)
Lee: $560,000 (+6.6%)
Ogle: $1.18 million (+5%)
Whiteside: $790,000 (+3.9%)
Region: $3.43 million (+5.22%)