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Southland tourism continues to rebound

Jen Hoelzle Illinois' tourism director speaks with Roy Patel chairman Chicago SouthlConventi  Visitors Bureau prior start bureau's annual meeting

Jen Hoelzle, Illinois' tourism director, speaks with Roy Patel, chairman of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau, prior to the start of the bureau's annual meeting Wednesday in Matteson. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 28, 2013 7:12AM



Even as tourism and convention and trade show business in the Southland continues to show improvement, the “region needs to think bigger,” the chief executive of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau said Wednesday.

Speaking at the bureau’s annual meeting in Matteson, Jim Garrett said his dream is to see the construction of a “mega-event sports complex” in the region that could draw substantial tourism dollars.

While Garrett acknowledged that such a complex is, for now, little more than wishful thinking, the bureau reported that tourism and trade show business improved dramatically in fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30.

Attendees at Southland sporting events, conventions, trade shows and tourist attractions was 38,549, up from 24,121 in fiscal 2012, the bureau reported. It says the estimated economic impact was $10.2 million during the recently ended fiscal year compared with $2.5 million in fiscal 2012.

Rebounding from the recession, area hotel occupancy rates and revenue showed improvement, according to the annual report.

It says that in fiscal 2013, daily occupancy rates averaged 61 percent, the highest level since fiscal 2008, just prior to the start of the recession, while revenue topped $100 million, the first time that’s happened since fiscal 2007 and an increase of 8.2 percent from last year.

The bureau also outlined its goals that are part of its five-year strategic plan, including supporting “destination-enhancing development,” such as Garrett’s sports complex, boosting the Southland’s image and expanding sales and marketing partnerships in the region.

The bureau is funded primarily through a state grant, which in fiscal 2014, which began July 1, is about $1 million but also has funding agreements with 20 Southland towns and receives a portion of the hotel-motel tax they collect. In fiscal 2013, that amount was $630,000.

Statewide, tourism numbers were up in 2012, with 99 million domestic visitors (6.1 percent increase) and 2 million foreign tourists, an improvement of 11.8 percent over 2011, Jen Hoelzle, Illinois’ chief tourism director, said during her keynote speech to the Southland bureau’s meeting.

Despite that increase in international visitors, Hoelzle said Illinois isn’t high on the destination list for many of them. The Chicago area, for instance, is viewed as “dirty or grungy” by many foreign travelers, she said.

“We are perceived as dirtier and grungier than New York City, so we have some work to do,” Hoelzle said.



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