The Power of Travel: The Road to Recovery
Over the past 14 months, we’ve witnessed the closure of numerous local businesses, from area restaurants to longtime favorites like the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum. As we ordered takeout and dined out at home, we missed seeing the faces of our enthusiastic hospitality workers who always took special care to provide us a great experience. We craved live music at our venues, performances at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and the din of cheers at State Farm Center as our Fighting Illini Men’s Basketball team fought their way to becoming the Big Ten Tournament Champions.
Looking back over the past year, it’s easy to realize the many things we often took for granted in our daily lives in the greater Champaign County area. It gives us a greater appreciation for the many amenities in our community that make it not only a great place to live, but an Outside of Ordinary destination to visit.
Gone were the University of Illinois moms and dads that took over the community during spring and fall weekends. Those tour buses you often found around our streets no longer brought groups to our area attractions. Business travelers meeting and staying in our hotels became a thing of the past, and who would have thought that we’d miss our fellow Big Ten fans who took over sections at Memorial Stadium on game day.
This year as we celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week, we reflect on all that was lost this past year and the devastating impact it’s had on our local economy. According to a report released this week by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, Illinois’ economy shrunk by 4% in 2020, with leisure, hospitality, and food service taking the biggest hit—a 30% reduction in economic output. Pre-pandemic, the travel & tourism sector supported 3,270 jobs in the greater Champaign County area. During the past year, we saw loss of jobs or significantly cut hours for our hospitality industry.
Simply stated, when people stop traveling for leisure, business, or sports, our economy suffers.
We’ve joined our colleagues around the country this week to celebrate the Power of Travel, recognizing the role travel and tourism will play in our recovery.
In the greater Champaign County area, we are already seeing the signs of recovery. New and renovated infrastructure has put us on the path to safely welcoming visitors. The opening on the Rantoul Family Sports Complex, in combination with other area sports facilities, are safely hosting sports tournaments, welcoming athletes and their families who stay in area hotels and dine out, shop, and visit our attractions while in town. We’ll finally be able to welcome back the IHSA Boy’s State Basketball Tournament in March 2022, and again host the IHSA Individual Wrestling Championships in February 2022 and the IHSA State Football Championships in November 2022.
The expansion of the I Hotel & Illinois Conference Center will allow meeting delegates to come together again at a safe distance, bringing much needed business back to our meeting venues, hotels, caterers, and other supporting services.
Our museums are open once again, live music is making a comeback, and we hope to soon get back to filling the seats in our area theatres and performing arts venues. In August, we’ll see hot rods take over our streets as we host the Hot Rod Power Tour at the State Farm Center. This fall, we’ll welcome back Ebertfest to the Virginia Theatre. Runners will once again return to our streets for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. Perhaps by winter, we’ll once again see Santa head down Neil Street during the annual Parade of Lights.
While we lost some businesses in 2020, we also welcomed new spots that will surely become staples in our community.
The Power of Travel is not to be underestimated. Visitor traffic means positive economic input for our community. It is a catalyst to recovery. Pre-pandemic, the greater Champaign County had the highest growth in visitor spending in all of Illinois, with $448 million in spending, a 7% growth from 2018. When these dollars enter our community, they are reinvested in the services needed to make our community a better place to live, work, and visit.
We look forward to seeing how our innovative and welcoming community moves forward post-pandemic as we safely welcome visitors, and we once again get to experience those amenities right here in our backyard that we so missed over the past year.