After years of growth, Visit McHenry County works to curb tourism losses
Prior to COVID-19's impact, Illinois enjoyed its ninth consecutive year of record tourism growth in 2019, including a 3.3 percent tourism spending increase reported for McHenry County, according to state agency statistics released late last month.
Illinois welcomed 120 million visitors who spent $43.1 billion in 2019, a $1.3 billion increase over 2018, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity's annual report notes. Tourism accounted for $264.8 million in spending in McHenry County, employing 1,740 people who earned about $60 million, a 4.8 percent payroll increase over the previous year.
"While COVID-19 has brought a great deal of uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Tourism is absolutely essential to our state's economy," Illinois Office of Tourism Director Karla Flannery wrote in a letter to Illinois Convention and Visitors Bureaus. "The 2019 figures show that we have a strong foundation to build on for recovery, while focusing on ensuring Illinoisans and visitors to our state have the right travel and safety guidance."
Jaki Berggren, executive director of Visit McHenry County, said that although the pandemic will almost certainly bring numbers down for 2020, the takeaway from the 2019 report is positive.
She and others involved with Visit McHenry County have worked hard since the start of the pandemic to promote safe ways to support affected businesses, enjoy the recreational opportunities McHenry County has to offer, and get in on virtual versions of traditionally in-person events.
"Our website, visitmchenrycounty.com, is regularly updated with the latest fun things to do and see throughout McHenry County and Illinois -- as well as measures in place to ensure visitors' safety, such as advanced ticketing, social distancing and masking," Berggren said. "Right now, we're featuring a new Illinois Road Trip Roundup each Tuesday."
Berggren added that even in a pandemic, tourism remains crucial to the state and local economy. Area attractions that are open, including the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, area orchards and farmers' markets, and Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove have established COVID protocols to provide the safest possible experience.
"Last year's tourism dollars supported more than 344,100 jobs in the Illinois travel and tourism industry, an increase of 1,800 jobs from 2018," Flannery wrote in her letter. "Travel also generated nearly $2.5 billion in state tax revenue, an increase of 7.7 percent."
Berggren added that everyone looks forward to the day when masks are no longer needed and a sense of normalcy resumes.
"For now," she said, "we strongly support the innovative ways our local businesses are adapting their routines, keeping themselves in the strongest position possible to recapture our remarkable growth streak."
2019 Economic Impact of Domestic Travel: McHenry CountyTravel expenditures: $264.8 million (3.3% increase)
Local tax revenue: $8.69 million (4.4% increase)