Jen Hoelzle, director of the Illinois Office of Tourism, knows what visitors mean to the state — money, and lots of it. That’s why her office paid for a tourism-oriented ad at the beginning of the Oscar-nominated film “Lincoln” when it was distributed in Europe.
“We need to get creative and we need to get more eyes on Illinois outside the drive-in states,” Hoelzle said last week. “How do we get the fly-ins (and) put more heads in beds for longer periods of time?”
Hoelzle, obviously, focuses on visitors who might know only that Illinois features Chicago and a tie to Lincoln. But she should not discount the value of attracting visitors from the “drive-in” states.
Millions of people live within a 150-mile radius of Vermilion County. The cities of Chicago and Indianapolis are inside that circle, with metropolitan areas such as St. Louis, Cincinnati and Louisville just a bit farther down the road.
Vermilion County offers a unique blend of history — Lincoln was a frequent visitor to Danville during his days as a lawyer on the 8th Circuit — unique shopping opportunities and an abundance of outdoor recreational sites such as the parks within the Vermilion County Concervation District, Kickapoo State Park and its associated recreational areas and the Middle Fork National Scenic River corridor.
Business that serve the needs of visitors — motels and hotels, restaurants and specialty stores among them — stand to gain from more visitors to the area.
The Danville Convention and Visitors Bureau does a good job at putting out the word about Vermilion County attractions, but its budget is limited.
Maybe instead of buying ads for European who watch movies, the state tourism office could throw a few more dollars to the places where it could see a real return on its investment — places like Vermilion County.