One of the hardest hit industries in the pandemic has been tourism.
Domestic travel in the U.S. took a $355 billion hit in 2020, resulting in more than 5 million travel-related jobs lost. To make matters worse, the Illinois Office of Tourism had to decrease funding by 50% to its Convention and Visitors Bureaus throughout the state.
Many of the bureaus had to make reductions to their staff and think outside of the box on how to market their destinations with limited resources.
Now, to find ways to promote southern Illinois in every way possible, bureaus throughout the region have formed the Southern Illinois Tourism Alliance.
Together the group covers 36 counties in southern Illinois, and has representatives from Carbondale Tourism, Visit Effingham, ILLINOISouth Tourism, the Greater Metropolis Convention & Visitors Bureau, Enjoy Mt. Vernon, The Benton-West City Chamber of Commerce, Southernmost Illinois Tourism and visitSI.
The Southern Illinois Tourism Alliance produces a weekly blog, the Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup, which covers topics related to travel, tourism and as economic development.
Each entity within the group posts the blog to their website and their social media pages each week.
"visitSI is proud to be a part of the Road Trip Roundup," said Ashlee Spiller, executive assistant for visitSI in Williamson County. "This partnership brings an increasing number of engagements to our website and social platforms. It gives visitors a chance to explore all of the wonderful assets of southern Illinois while still social distancing."
The Alliance also recently started a co-op video that provides great visual promotion of what visitors can experience before even making the trip.
Andy Waterman, communications director for ILLINOISouth Tourism, spearheads the effort behind coordinating all of the content for SITA each week.
"So far we have had 14 different blogs that feature everything from the best hiking spots, to some of the best restaurants throughout the region," Waterman says. "With road trips on the rise, tourism is going to be one of the best ways for the state to recover from the pandemic, so we hope folks take these travel ideas, make them their own, and really experience all of the great things that the southern region of the state has to offer."
The Southern Illinois Tourism Alliance also provides an avenue for these industry professionals to bounce ideas off one another and help each other work through similar issues.
"SITA has been the best collaborative effort I have been a part of in over a decade of working in tourism in Southern Illinois," says Trish Steckenrider, executive director of the Greater Metropolis Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It is the first time I have ever felt we are all on the same team and supporting one another in an effort to promote the entire region."