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updated: 7/29/2014 1:32 PM

Lake County sees steady boost in tourism spending

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  • Maureen Riedy, president of Visit Lake County, discusses tourism numbers during an event Monday at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.

    Maureen Riedy, president of Visit Lake County, discusses tourism numbers during an event Monday at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Lake County


Lake County saw a small bump in tourism last year, with travel-related expenditures topping $1.2 billion.

That represents a 1.6 percent increase over 2012, tourism officials said Monday during a presentation at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. The announcement came at the first of 17 stops this week on a statewide tour by the Illinois Office of Tourism.

Illinois marked a third consecutive year of record numbers, hosting about 105.7 million visitors in 2013, up 4.5 percent from 2012. Jen Hoelzle, director of the Illinois office of tourism, said travelers provide a direct economic benefit for local communities and areas such as Lake County.

"The $1 billion expenditure is our goal," said Maureen Riedy, president of Visit Lake County, which has 12 community partners and about 200 industry partners that contribute to the organization.

In Lake County, travel spending translated into $25.78 million in local tax revenue and helped support 10,190 jobs, according to state figures.

"We're third in terms of expenditures by county. I think that illustrates the importance of tourism in Lake County," Riedy said. Cook County notched about $21 billion in expenditures, an increase of 3.8 percent, and DuPage County reported $2.3 billion, up 3 percent, according to figures supplied to Riedy by the state.

She noted that a lot of travel expenditures are based on hotels, and DuPage has about 14,000 rooms compared to about 8,600 in Lake County.

"We've had a steady, progressive increase these past four years," Riedy said of Lake County's tourism.

Six Flags is the "destination driver" for Lake County, she added, with Gurnee Mills, Key Lime Cove resort, Ravinia, the Chain `O Lakes and Lake Michigan beaches also in the mix.

"It fuels our local economy," Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said of Six Flags. The village has no property tax and about 44 percent of its revenue comes mainly from sales tax, which is estimated at $17.1 million for 2014-15.

"A good 60 percent of sales tax and food and beverage tax comes from non-Gurnee ZIP codes," Kovarik added. As it has traditionally done when new roller coasters are introduced at Six Flags, the village is expecting a spike from Goliath, which opened this season.

Riedy said events such as the BMW Championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, which last fall attracted 130,000 spectators, also helped fill hotels and spotlight the county. Visit Lake County is in the midst of a multimedia campaign, she added.

"We found the Chicago market is the top market for us," Riedy said. "We're creating the image of Lake County as a place to go for a weekend getaway."

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