Tourism Reaches Record Growth in the Greater Champaign County Area Prior to COVID-19

Tourism to the greater Champaign County area flourished in 2019 with significant increases in jobs, payroll, state and local tax receipts, and visitor spending. Prior to COVID-19, people continued to discover the benefits of living and working in the greater Champaign County area, while visitors contributed to the economic growth, spending over $448.7 million at hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions and more.


This 6.2% growth in spending is reinvested in the local economy, bringing in $8.2 million in local taxes to our communities, contributing to improvements in infrastructure and saving local families an average of $1,300 on their annual taxes.  In 2019, our community supported 3,270 people working in travel and tourism businesses, generating $98.1 million in payroll, a 7.6% increase from 2018.


Overall, the counties supported by Visit Champaign County (Champaign, Douglas, Moultrie, and Piatt) had increases that surpassed the State of Illinois in every metric.


“The greater Champaign County area continues to grow as destination, as evidenced by these increases from 2019,” explains Jayne DeLuce, President & CEO of Visit Champaign County. “While we celebrate this positive news, it is bittersweet as we see the devastation to our industry during COVID-19.”


The U.S. Travel Association reports that by the end of 2020, the U.S. will experience $505 billion in losses for the travel industry for a total of $81 billion in lost federal, state, and local taxes by the end of 2020. 40% of excess U.S. unemployment is in the leisure and hospitality sector, with nearly half of the 16.9 million jobs in this sector wiped out in March and April.


“Locally we experience tremendous losses,” states DeLuce. “With the cancelation of our communities’ largest events, such as the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, Mom’s Weekend, Graduation, and countless conferences, we lost tens of millions in economic impact.”


Beyond the loss of revenue to the community, DeLuce says, “the real devastation is the loss of jobs for our residents.”  In April, the hotels reached an unprecedented low with a 27% occupancy rate. “This resulted in all of 46 hotels laying off or furloughing the majority of their staff with many still not back at full staffing levels.”


The impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry nationwide and locally is bleak, but DeLuce has hope for recovery. “Just prior to the pandemic, we worked with our stakeholders to develop an aggressive, three-year strategic plan. While we will have to make necessary adjustments to our goals, our Destination 2023 plan is our roadmap to recovery.”


Among the goals in the plan: 1) Enhance the community as a destination; 2) Strengthen visitor and resident experiences; 3) Elevate Visit Champaign County to be embraced as a community-shared value.


“The pandemic has strengthened our resolve and allows us the opportunity to determine how we can best support our community,” DeLuce states.


While national recovery isn’t expected until 2024, DeLuce believes the impact of travel and tourism on the greater Champaign County area may reach 2019 numbers earlier if their mission is supported. “We had incredible success stories leading up to the pandemic, securing the return of the IHSA State Boys Basketball Tournament, new events like the AJGA Golf Tournament, and the expansion of the I Hotel Conference Center that will allow larger conferences when safe. We need the support of our stakeholders and the business community at large to focus on the big picture and see the real impacts that investment in our industry means for residents.”


Economic Impact of Domestic Travel by County:

Champaign County

Travel expenditures – $388.9 million (7.0% increase)

Local tax revenue – $6.9 million (8.1% increase)


Douglas County

Travel expenditures – $44.1 million (4.5% increase)

Local tax revenue – $0.78 (5.7% increase)


Moultrie County

Travel expenditures – $7.8 million (3.7% increase)

Local tax revenue – $0.29 million (4.8% increase)


Piatt County

Travel expenditures – $7.9 million (7.1% increase)

Local tax revenue – $0.20 million  (8.2% increase)


The Illinois Office of Tourism receives domestic visitor volume estimates from DK Shifflet and international visitor numbers from Tourism Economics.  Visitor expenditures, tax revenue and jobs numbers come from U.S. Travel Association.


About Visit Champaign County

Visit Champaign County’s mission is to promote a welcoming destination experience for visitors to strengthen economic opportunity and enhance the lives of resident.

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