Lake County tourism tops $1 billion

Published7/8/2008 4:20 PM

Visitors spent a record $1 billion and change last year at Lake County attractions and associated businesses, an amount that shows the diversity of entertainment choices, tourism officials say.

And, at a time when the "staycation" is a necessary option for many families, the focus for 2008 has shifted from drawing outside the area to convincing country residents to reconnect with activities in their own backyards and spend money close to home.


Local civic and business leaders revealed the numbers Tuesday during a news conference at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, described as the largest gated attraction in Illinois.

"It really signifies the importance of tourism in Lake County," said Maureen Riedy, president of the Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"People were going to Six Flags, but they were going other places as well," she added. "They seem to be going around the county - they're spending more time here, they're spending more money here."

The nearly $1.1 billion spent in 2007 represents an increase of more than 6 percent over the $994 million reported in 2006. State and local sales tax receipts also rose about the same percentage to nearly $58 million and about $24 million respectively.

"Lake County has reached a major new milestone in travel expenditures," said Lake County Board Chairman Suzi Schmidt. "Six percent is a huge increase, so that's a big deal."

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The top three attractions in Lake County in 2007 were Gurnee Mills, Six Flags and Lake County forest preserves.

Lake was third in tourism in the Chicago area behind Cook and DuPage counties, with $18.4 billion and $2.1 billion respectively in tourist dollars. Visitors to the 10 northeastern Illinois counties generated $24 billion, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism reported Tuesday. Statewide, visitors spent a record $29.9 billion, the bureau reported, an increase of 5.8 percent from 2006.

Schmidt noted attractions throughout the county, from the shops in Long Grove to the Volo Auto Museum to the Chain `O Lakes to the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Cuneo Museum in Vernon Hills and Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. She added that local attractions support 10,440 tourism-related jobs.

She said her family reunion will be in Lake County, and include a fishing trip on Lake Michigan.

While enthused about the figure, Riedy said the economy will have an impact on tourism this year.

"This year is a challenging year for the tourism industry as Americans have tightened their spending," she said.

To that end, the bureau is concentrating on keeping local interest high with a summer fun campaign for staycations. Riedy said the 30,000 unique web site users to a special website in one month already has surpassed last year's three-month effort.


Great America, which is among the perennial top attractions for summer visitors, faces major road work in the area as well as a tight economy.

Six Flags President Hank Salemi said road work has not yet been a factor, and security staff reported seeing a good number of out of town license plates during the Fourth of July holiday.

"I'm feeling pretty good about our destination business," he said.

The park doesn't release attendance figures, he said.

Gurnee Village Administrator James Hayner said at a public meeting Monday night that park attendance was off to a slow start because of bad weather in May. He added that a 2-for-1 ticket promotion helped Great America attract crowds of more than 30,000 on six consecutive days last week.

Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

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