‘The No. 1 industry impacted’: Cities still recovering from record-setting tourism losses

Local News

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA)– The coronavirus pandemic cut the money visitors spent in Illinois in half.

The state recently released a county-by-county look at the damage done in 2020, showing — in some places — record-setting losses for cities and counties that rely on visitors.

The impact reached far beyond the industry itself. In the capital city, for example, a portion of that local tax revenue goes directly into the General Fund, something that helps cover the cost of city government, fire and police services, keeping up with roads and so much more.

“Tourism and hospitality was the number one industry impacted,” shared Scott Dahl, the Director of the Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

The organization plays a big role in bringing people into Sangamon County, best known to outsiders as the home of President Abraham Lincoln.

“There’s a trickle-down for tourism,” Dahl added. “And so it, it really is impacted through the entire community.”

County-wide money spent on hotels, restaurants, transportation, shops and recreation dropped about 37 percent in 2020, compared to 2019. That was a loss of almost $190 million, much of which came from Springfield.

“We’re talking about a city that typically sees 800,000 room nights rented annually,” Dahl said.

On top of it all, more than 800 people who keep that industry going lost their jobs last year.

In Vermilion County, three tourism industry jobs were lost in 2020. Danville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Jeanie Cooke said that’s thanks to quick adaptation by local businesses.

However, the county still lost more than $13 million in tourism revenue in 2020.

“People think sometimes that tourism is vacation, and it’s not, it’s anyone who comes into your community and spends money,” Cooke added.

According to her, prior to 2020, there was growth every year. Cooke said 2020 became the year with the most lost revenue at least since she started this job in 1993.

“When people quit traveling, people quit coming from across the line in Indiana to go to grocery stores, all of that is tourism money,” she explained.

If you drive into downtown Danville right now, nearly an entire block of buildings lies empty.

“What you don’t see is a number of these buildings that are being purchased and renovated,” Cooke added.

And, overall, things are looking up.

Cooke said hours for many businesses are still reduced and things likely won’t be back to 100 percent for a while.

Sangamon county rebounded in 2021 as well.

“Many of those cancellations that we saw we were able to rebook into future years,” Dahl said. “…It took a tremendous amount of effort and certainly hundreds of hours.”

Although the numbers aren’t official yet, 2021 is shaping up to be about 10 percent behind 2019, according to Dahl.

He was optimistic for the 2022 travel season but said tourism revenue may lag for another couple of years. The state doesn’t expect international travel to fully rebound until 2023 or 2024.

We also took a look at the pandemic’s impact on tourism income in Macon County. There, 286 jobs were lost in the industry alone and money spent by visitors declined by a little more than 27 percent, a loss of $53.6 million.

In Champaign County, more than 1,300 jobs were lost last year. Local tax revenue dropped by 17 percent and direct spending went down almost 35 percent.

Jayne DeLuce is the president & CEO of Visit Champaign County. She said in 2019, Champaign County was on a great track with tourism with the highest growth rate in the state.

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