Today, Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) joined legislators and leaders in the tourism industry to award $22.5 million in grant funding for 89 projects across Illinois through the Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant program. Designed to support local festivals and attractions and drive tourism across the state, Illinois increased the funding available from $15 million to $22.5 million in order to support additional attractions. The additional $7.5 million was secured during the Illinois General Assembly legislative session in early January 2023 and the program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
“Illinois is the best place in the nation to visit, and now that people are finding that out through our marketing, our tourism economy is booming,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant program has been a vital part of that success by restoring and enhancing the great events across our state that draw visitors from around the world. When we invest in projects like these — it reverberates beyond just one event or exhibit. It benefits entire communities — from small businessowners who get to attract more customers to families with young children who get to enjoy all that Illinois has to offer.”
This second round of the Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant program provides grant funding to localities, organizations, and businesses for a broad range of tourism-related improvements, events and activities. This builds upon $10 million in funding through the first round of the grant program provided to 40 localities across the state. Combined with Illinois’ largest-ever tourism campaign, ‘Middle of Everything,’ Illinois is prioritizing investing in our thriving tourism industry while driving millions of visitors to choose Illinois for their next trip.
“Anyone looking for a great experience can find it in Illinois, from the best state fairs in the country to unique outdoor festivals, attractions, and museums,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “Thank you, Governor Pritzker, DCEO, and members of the General Assembly for making this funding possible that supports tourism and preserves the rich, diverse activities that make Illinois the best state to live and visit.”
“Whether people are traveling to Illinois to visit the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, take a drive down the historic Route 66, or check out the world-renowned architecture in Chicago, Illinois has it all,” said DCEO Director Kristin A. Richards. “The State of Illinois is committed to bolstering the tourism sector by supporting the best festivals and attractions in the country that will show visitors from near and far that Illinois is the best place to live, work and do business.”
Through the $22.5 million investment, $5 million was reserved for festivals, which serve as economic drivers while bringing communities together, and $17.5 million is supporting a broad range of other tourism-related projects such as attractions, museums, live performance venues, and more. Applications were selected through a competitive process, with each grantee demonstrating how the award would help businesses in the surrounding area, as well as the project’s ability to attract visitors for overnight stays. Projects also scored higher based on proximity to commercial corridors and services – including hotels/motels, restaurants, retail, and other commercial operations.
“Illinois is coming back stronger in so many ways, and Governor Pritzker’s commitment to our tourism and hospitality industries helps to share that success with the world,” said State Rep. Robyn Gabel, (D-Evanston). “This leadership is bringing people from across our country and around the world to Illinois to share in our festivals, see our incredible sites, dine at our restaurants, and experience a state that is moving forward.”
“Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, it’s important that we responsibly invest in our tourism industry,” said State Rep. Margaret Croke, (D-Chicago). “Chicago is a global destination, and tourism supports thousands of jobs and brings billions of dollars into our state’s economy. I appreciate the work of DCEO and this administration to ensure that this continues to be a vital industry now and moving forward.”
“Investing in tourism throughout Illinois is not just a fantastic way of spurring our already thriving economy, it’s also a way of encouraging families to explore our state’s lesser-known attractions,” said State Rep. Michelle Mussman, (D-Schaumburg). “Though Chicago is a world-class destination with an abundance of exciting features, the rest of Illinois has even more for visitors and families to enjoy, and these grants will drive greater interest and investment in so much of what makes our state outstanding.”
“Bringing tourism dollars to Illinois communities will be a powerful stimulator for economic development,” said State Rep. Lamont J. Robinson, (D-Chicago). “As we continue to overcome current economic challenges, lending a hand to local businesses by promoting new visitors is money well-spent.”
“From the state fair to the Chicago Cubs, Illinois is lucky enough to boast a range of attractions that draw people to our communities,” said State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, (D-Aurora). “The millions going towards tourism don’t simply provide timely aid, they are an effective use of our capital. Doubtless we will see significant returns on this money.”
“Small businesses, especially those in underserved communities, are facing an uphill battle as they fight increased costs due to inflation. Vital tourism funding will bring more customers to patronize these businesses and promote growth when it’s much-needed,” said State Rep. Kam Buckner, (D-Chicago). “The good-paying jobs that are sure to follow increased revenue will be a further benefit to working families who need assistance the most.”
“Destination development drives visitors to our state’s outstanding attractions from across the world,” said State Senator Sara Feigenholtz, (D-Chicago). “Today’s announcement could not come at a better time as our festivals, historic sites, live performances and museums gear up for a bustling summer of travel for tourists and residents alike.”
“By supporting festivals and other tourist attractions, we help local entrepreneurs thrive while also showcasing the unique cultural and historical features Illinois has to offer,” said State Senator Mattie Hunter, (D-Chicago). “Events like these create jobs, boost our local economy and are an important part of our communities.”
“Tourism is our way to share our history and our stories with visitors from all over the world,” said State Senator Robert Peters, (D-Chicago). “By providing funding for tourism attractions, we bolster our economies, create well-paying jobs, and strengthen the future of our communities.”
“Illinois festivals and tourism attractions bring local communities together, attract visitors to our towns, drive the state’s economy, employ thousands of people and provide fun and merriment for friends and families to enjoy,” said State Senator Karina Villa, (D-West Chicago). “These grants will go a long way in uplifting the tourism industry in our local communities and help ensure that we can continue to enjoy festivals with our friends and family, such as the City of Aurora for Lights Festival and the Christkindl Market. I am proud to see over $230,000 in funding will be going towards Aurora to support our wide range of attractions our community has to offer.”
“Our tourism industry was one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said State Senator Laura Fine (D-Glenview). “This next round of DCEO tourism grants will give businesses the opportunity to reinvest and expand to attract visitors and Illinoisians alike to their unique attractions.”
“Bringing outdoor recreation to the forefront in southwest Illinois has been a major driver for the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau,” said Cory Jobe, President & CEO of Great Rivers & Roads Tourism Bureau. “State funding for the Kayak Kiosk project along the Great River Road is game changer for the region and will help us provide kayak access to the Mississippi River from locations along the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic byway. Continuing to build our outdoor recreation/nature based tourism product is key to continued growth in our region.”
In addition to the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which is the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America held across various neighborhoods across Chicago, grant funding supports local institutions like Belleville’s Old Town Farmer’s Market, and large-scale events like the Taste of Chicago and the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. The grants also support community-based events like Equiticity’s community bike ride series in Chicago designed to support local businesses, and the inaugural Lake County Juneteenth Festival at Foss Park.
“DCEO’s tourism grant to the Chicago Architecture Biennial provides both most welcome financial assistance to CAB 5, the 2023 edition, and signals that the exposition has achieved an important element of its mission,” said Jack Guthman, Board Chairman of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. “CAB was founded in response to the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan which challenged the arts community to establish an event that ‘attracts global attention and highlights Chicago’s renowned cultural assets and heritage.’ We are proud that the state, by making this grant, has acknowledged CAB’s efforts to meet this goal.”
“Equiticity is proud to continue to build our racial equity movement with this funding from IL DCEO/Tourism Attractions & Festivals Program Grant because Community Bicycle Rides/Festivals at the neighborhood level contribute to growing trust in communities,” said Oboi Reed, President & CEO of Equiticity. “When trust increases in neighborhoods, perceptions of violence decrease. A reduction in the concerns around neighborhood violence move people to walk, bike, shop, and explore their communities. More active and hyperlocal explorations make our streets more vibrant. More vibrant streets attract increased retail, leading to greater job creation in our neighborhoods, and contributes to reducing violence in our communities, which is a vital step for marginalized people to move from surviving to thriving.”
The State of Illinois continues to prioritize our tourism industry as millions of visitors spend billions of dollars annually across Illinois, boosting economic development and supporting jobs in the industry. In FY23 to date, hotel tax collections have surpassed all of FY22 collections and are on-track to surpass the highest fiscal year collections on record in FY19. Per the latest data available, in 2021 Illinois welcomed more than 97 million visitors who spent more than $32 billion in the state.
The success of Illinois’ tourism sector is due to commitment to supporting the industry as well as the Illinois Office of Tourism’s award-winning ‘Middle of Everything’ campaign. New data from Longwoods International shows that the campaign had an enormous positive economic impact – leading to an additional 2 million trips which equated to an additional $1 billion spent in Illinois hotels, restaurants, small businesses, and attractions. Additionally, every $1 spent on the campaign equated to $91 in visitor spending while generating $10 in state and local tax revenue for every dollar spent – an enormous return on investment.
Grant awards range from $15,000 to $500,000, with an average award of $250,000 for a total of $22.5 million. A link to the full list of the recipients can be found here.