Rockford Tourism could see 7-10 percent increase in one year

Statewide budget cuts could hurt city’s earning potential in the next fiscal year

The Rockford Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau presented information to the Rockford City Council June 14 regarding a possible increase of seven to 10 percent in as early as one year. The presentation, given by RACVB CEO/President Wendy Perks Fisher and consultant Bill Geist, suggested that Rockford follow the lead of other successful cities and not just build Rockford up, but to build tourism “drivers.”

The travel industry was responsible for bringing in $304 million in 2000, but after the events of 9/11, tourism declined nationwide. That decline, coupled with a steep drop in the amount of business travel in Rockford in the following two years, led to a decrease of $74 million between 2000 and 2002.

The RACVB’s presentation came at a time when their own budget is up to receive its first sizable increase in almost a decade, but when there is also a chance that tourism funding may be cut at the state level. If the Bureau’s increase comes through, they have projected an increase of about $247 million in new visitor spending for 2004.

Bill Geist, a travel consultant hired by the RACVB, presented the results of a survey to produce ideas on how to revitalize the tourism industry here in Rockford. Geist pointed out that though there have been citywide projects like the Coronado Theatre restoration, Rockford has not seen a significant new attraction to increase tourism in five to six years.

“[The Coronado] is a wonderful asset that people who visit here take advantage of, but it is not a driver.” Geist said. “A driver is something like a convention center or a renovated downtown or River District.”

He also noted cities like Madison and St. Louis have built tourism-focused projects in recent years, and that on average, these drivers have caused a 7-10 percent increase in tourism revenue in each city.

Some members of the city council reacted to Geist’s presentation with questions and skepticism. Alderman Patrick Curran suggested that the slump in tourism might be part of a natural cycle, and that tourism revenue might have leveled off naturally in 2001 before the terrorist attacks. Alderman Robert Greene suggested that the initial decreases in revenue were also due to Coronado-related budget cuts from the RACVB.

Fiscal numbers for 2003 will be released some time in the next two months.

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