Bureau reports banner year for Danville area tourism

Commercial-News File PhotoVisitors to Balloons Over Vermilion walk along the events midway earlier this month at the Vermilion Regional Airport. Event organizers say they saw record crowds pass through the gates.

DANVILLE – With a record-breaking crowd at Balloons Over Vermilion this year of more than 24,000, Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. said organizers and those involved, including city staff, “did a fantastic job.”

That and other events such as the Thunder on the Vermilion speed boat races and other local attractions, in addition to people visiting the area for work or family reunions, has resulted in the area again seeing an increase in tourism dollars.

The Danville Area Convention & Visitors' Bureau on Tuesday released the results of an economic impact study prepared for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and its Bureau of Tourism by the U.S. Travel Association.

Spending by non-residents in Danville/Vermilion County topped $83.95 million dollars, an increase of 5.4 percent from the previous year.

“We have seen a significant increase in every category,” said DACVB Executive Director Jeanie Cooke. “Employment is up 1.7 percent, local payroll is up 4.6 percent at $15.94 million, and local tax receipts are up 4 percent at $2.02 million.”

Cooke said since the start of the state’s Certified Convention & Visitors’ Bureau program in 1984, tourism has provided a steady source of income for Danville/Vermilion County.

“The return on investment, however, represents much more than money in the bank. It is first-time jobs and careers at all levels. It’s entrepreneurial spirit at its best, it’s capital investment and taxes, it’s quality of life, preservation, revitalization, and sharing the celebration of our sense of place with others,” she said.

“The U.S. Travel Association study is done for each of the 102 counties in Illinois, and is the only independent study done yearly over an extended number of years using the same model, so we have a fair growth comparison and excellent year-by-year benchmark,” Cooke said.

Balloons Over Vermilion organizers thank the more than 600 sponsors and volunteers who made the 2019 festival a record-breaking success. It saw a 20 percent increase in attendance from inaugural year 2016. More than 11,000 children attended the two-day event.

Organizers say Balloons Over Vermilion 2020 will be July 10 and 11 at the Vermilion Regional Airport.

There also will be discussions coming up about having Thunder on the Vermilion return next year.

This year’s speed boat races were good for the community and the Gao Grotto, according to Buddy Freed, one of the organizers. The wind and weather affected this year’s event.

Cooke said the tourism impact study is done every year. She said it has at least come out since 1993. She said many people think of tourism only as vacationers, and it’s not.

“It’s a wide variety of any reason someone comes here to spend money (who doesn’t live here),” she said.

Cooke said a lot of it is events, and “we keep adding to the tourism product.”

But other tourism dollars come from industries and businesspersons, with one example being OSF HealthCare bringing in training staff.

“We’re seeing across the board a lot of enhanced activity the last two years,” Cooke said.

“We’re really excited about the future of the industry,” she also added about the grand re-opening of the Fischer Theatre and the casino.

Just this past weekend, Cooke had an Ohio bus trip tour stop by Danville on its way home after going to Dubuque, Iowa, to take a trip on the Mississippi River.

Cooke took them on a mini tour through the Fischer Theatre and also to see the Temple Plaza sculpture and murals, Vermilion County Museum, Vermilion County War Museum and three different restaurants.

Before hopping back on the bus, they told Cooke to call them when performances start at the Fischer Theatre.

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