250 people attend tourism bureau’s annual meeting

New CEO lays out plans for growth in the area

Nearly 250 people attended the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (RACVB) annual meeting at Rock Valley College’s Starlight Theatre to hear David Preece, the new president and chief executive officer of the visitors bureau, deliver the keynote address, “Competing in the Destination Marketplace: the Rockford Region’s Opportunities and Challenges.”

Preece highlighted the uniqueness of the Rockford area and why he chose to come here. He also told the audience that a new regional branding initiative for the Rockford area would strengthen the bureau’s ability to promote the region, as well as serve as a unifying brand theme for other partners.

RACVB Board Chairman Rena Cotsones revealed in her remarks that the Rockford area’s tourism business is growing, as illustrated by the following important leading indicators:

Hotel occupancy in Winnebago County through September 2006 was 67.77 percent, up 11.7 percent over the same period in 2005. Additionally, the average rate paid at a hotel in Winnebago County was $67.39, an increase of 8.9 percent.

In 2005, visitors spent $266 million in Winnebago County, up 7.4 percent from the previous year. The rate of growth was better than the state’s average.

The revenue visitors spent in 2005 generated $73 million in payroll at our local hotels, restaurants and other retail businesses and supported 2,790 jobs at area businesses that serve visitors.

RACVB worked to bring more groups than ever before to the region. To date in 2006, RACVB’s sales team recorded a 27 percent increase in group leads, from 279 in September 2005 to 354 in 2006. For bookings of groups that have agreed to come to the region, RACVB recorded a 22 percent increase, from 401 through September 2005 to 488 in 2006.

2006 additional highlights

RACVB increased its marketing efforts with a one-time, $1.5 million Small Business Administration marketing grant, secured by Congressman Don Manzullo. The bureau administered the grant that was shared with the Chicago/Rockford International Airport and the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.

RACVB helped lead the “Sweden Connection,” a community-wide effort to build tourism trade, culture and economic exchanges between Rockford and Sweden. The program, which continues in 2007, is a collaboration with the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, Swedish Historical Society of Rockford, Rockford Art Museum and the Rockford Area Arts Council.

What’s to come in 2007

Group business: Looking ahead to 2007, attendees learned that the region will host, for the first time, the America in Bloom National Educational Symposium and Awards Ceremony Sept. 27-30, 2007. Rockford won the 2005 award and will again compete in 2007. Another first-ever conference to be held in the Rockford area will be the All American Girls Professional Baseball Reunion in September. This national event celebrates the pioneering women who played professional baseball from 1943 to 1954, like the Rockford Peaches, Grand Rapids Chicks and Springfield Sallies.

Regional branding initiative: RACVB, working with the RAEDC, City of Rockford, Winnebago County and municipalities in the region, is on track to finalize a new regional brand by Dec. 31. RACVB will roll out the new image, tagline and copy elements at a public event in early to mid-January 2007.

Grant programs announced: Preece announced the creation of two new grant programs that will provide $50,000 during 2007 to local visitor industry organizations and meeting/event planners to help bolster marketing the Rockford region as a visitor destination. Applications will be available beginning Dec. 15.

The first fund, the RACVB Tourism Marketing & Events Grant, will provide up to $5,000 to local organizations and businesses to support marketing efforts or seed funds to help grow new or existing special events/festivals. During 2007, RACVB will award up to $25,000 through this dollar-matching grant program.

The second fund, the RACVB Meeting & Sports Events Grant, will provide funds to meeting and event planners to help offset costs associated with hosting meeting/events in the Rockford region. Additionally, the funds may be used to assist planners increase participation in their event. During 2007, RACVB will provide up to $25,000 in funding for this grant program.

New Booster Club members

The following were inducted into the Tourism Booster Club for their extraordinary efforts to make a significant economic impact on tourism and to the region’s quality of life.

Barbara Lunde and John Nelson were honored for their dedication and passion to promote the “Sweden Connection” between the Rockford area and Sweden through cultural, trade and tourism exchanges.

Sarah Wolf and the Discovery Center Museum were honored on the occasion of the museum’s 25th anniversary for creating a world-class children’s museum. Sixty percent of Discovery Center’s visitors are from out of town.

From the Dec. 13-19, 2006, issue

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