EDITOR’S NOTE: This monthly column provided by the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau discusses tourism events on the horizon.
The first month of 2017 had its moments of good and bad, as to be expected. However, the good is outweighing the bad quite well in the tourism world all around Alton, Illinois!
Our American bald eagle population has peaked, but we still have a few more weeks left in the season. Our latest counts were strong, adding up to nearly 150 eagles in the region. These eagles have been a bit more visible this year, especially at the base of the Clark Bridge at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the Audubon Center. Consistently this year, visitors have been able to spot six to a dozen, to even nearly 30 eagles in the sanctuary. But it’s not just the eagle count and visibility that have been good. People have been flocking to come visit us this January.
We started off the year with the great Alton-Audubon Eagle Fest, only to be met with the challenge of the lost Martin Luther King holiday weekend that usually brings in thousands to our region to an ice storm that never happened. The pressure was on to pull out a good January, and the next weeks delivered. In fact, the number of visitors coming just to the Alton Visitor Center rose by 50 percent over last year with more than 4,000 people walking into the center. This increase had to do with increased promotions, eagle watchers and diners for our Alton Restaurant Week.
In fact, Alton Restaurant Week has been measured a success on all reports from our participating restaurants. All of the feedback was extremely positive and almost all restaurants reported an increase above or at record levels for the number of diners. And, most importantly our hotel industry experienced growth with an increase in overnight revenues by more than 30 percent over the start of 2016! So, that’s not so bad for the start to 2017, and we sure hope this trend continues for our communities.
On the horizon, we’ve got the continuation of eagle season with lots of great events at the National Great Rivers Museum for the Masters of the Sky event on Feb. 18-19 and the continuation of tours at Pere Marquette State Park. In addition, the Alton Visitor Center will host Underground Railroad tours on Feb. 25. As we launch into spring, lots of things are beginning to bloom. The CVB is just putting the finishing touches on our spring and summer guide that will be going out in early April to cover us through the summer season. If you are ever for a loss on things to do, just check out VisitAlton.com for some fresh ideas on ways to spend Valentine’s Day, the weekend, or any day you can think. There is always something going on!
Stawar is president and CEO of the CVB, which works for the vested interests of hospitality partners in Madison, Jersey and Calhoun counties.