MANTENO — While Kankakee County’s tourism future is murky, its present is crystal clear.
Tourism remains a countywide growth industry as recently released 2018 figures show tax local tax revenues grew by 4.4 percent when comparing 2018 to 2017, said Staci Wilken, executive director of the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Wilken noted that county governmental bodies saw $4 million in local tax revenues. That $4 million figure was up from just more than $3.8 million collected in 2017.
Statewide, $41.7 billion was spent in Illinois in 2018 by international and domestic travelers, which was a $2.2 billion increase over 2017 figures.
Of Illinois’ 114.6 million domestic visitors, 16 percent were for business, and the remaining 84 for leisure.
According to state travel figures, Illinois welcomed 2.3 million international visitors last year.
“Tourism counts in Kankakee County,” Wilken said. Wilken said in Kankakee County, $150.6 million in total travel expenditures were spent here, an increase of 5.9 percent versus 2017. In 2017, that total was $142.2 million.
Travel tax revenues come through hotel/motel taxes. Kankakee County has a 5 percent nightly room tax. The county has just less than 1,000 rooms, but an additional 94 rooms will be added last this year when the new Holiday Inn Express in Bradley is expected to open late this year.
“Those (tax) dollars are staying in our community, contributing to improvements in local infrastructure and saving local families an average of $1,300 on their annual taxes,” she said.
To illustrate how these travel expenditures have increased, Wilken said in 2008, Kankakee County’s total was $108.9 million. In 2013, the figure has risen to $128.8 million. For the period of 2008 to 2018, the numbers represent a 38 percent increase in local travel expenditures.
So, why are there more visitors here?
Wilken said the region is doing a much better job at promoting local events and attractions. She said there is increased corporate travel because of companies such as CSL Behring, Nucor Steel, Van Drunen Farms and many other businesses here. Finally, she said local lodging is at capacity during the two weeks the Chicago Bears call Bourbonnais home.
“Businesses of all sizes are growing and they are bringing people here. We are not just seeing one area of growth,” she said.
Despite these positive trends, the future of the CVB is somewhat unknown. The village of Bradley has expressed frustrations with the CVB regarding marketing campaigns targeted toward Bradley.
The new village leadership, led by Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson have opening suggested pulling out of the county organization and creating its own tourism agency.
Wilken declined comment on the Bradley issues and what impact such a move would have.
“We are continuing to work on making Kankakee County a destination market. We are seeing fruits of our labor,” she said. “Everyone is working together. There are many reasons why people are coming here. We are working year round to make sure these numbers increase.”