ALTON — So how many of YOUR vacation days are left unused at the end of the year?
Brett Stawar, president and CEO of the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, says not using your time off not only keeps you from that much-needed break and “decompression time,” it hurts the tourism market and, consequentially, the economy.
On May 4 (you know, “May the 4th be with you”), the Alton Argosy Casino was transformed into the Millennium Falcon for the Star Wars-themed Rally 4 Tourism 2016, the bureau’s annual rally, and members of the CVB gained incredible powers of the mind to influence their captive audience … for one day, at least.
Stawar, dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi and wielding a light saber, spoke on the tourism industry’s reliance on the workforce and its commitment to leisure time, bringing vacation-related funds into the state, before introducing the event’s guest speaker, Illinois Office of Tourism Director Cory Jobe.
“Over 15 million jobs are supported by travel expenditures, 8.1 million directly in the travel industry,” Jobe said. “Every one in nine jobs depend on travel and tourism across the country.”
While 2013 and 2014 were record years for Illinois tourism, 2015 saw its share of struggles. When it comes to the Riverbend area bureau’s approach to tourism in the face of adversity (including a lack of funding by the state because of an ongoing state budget impasse and two major floods), a classic Han Solo quote comes to mind — “Never tell me the odds.”
May 1-7 is National Tourism Week, created by the U.S. Travel Association to begin a national discussion about the importance of tourism, one of the country’s largest industries.
The association also has initiated the Project: Time Off program. Each year, Americans leave 169 million unused vacation days, adding up to a collective worth of $52.4 billion in compensation, directly affecting the economy.
“If we used all of our allotted vacation days, it would deliver a $160 billion jolt to the U.S. economy, create 1.2 million new jobs and generate $21 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues,” Jobe said.
He also emphasized the importance of Illinois tourism to the state’s future and encouraged both vacationing within the region and advertising the benefits of vacationing to Illinois for those out of state.
More than 250 people attended the lunch and rally, and guest emcee Guy Phillips from Y98 FM sprinkled the event with Star Wars puns (“How do ewoks communicate? By ewokie-talkies”).
In what has become a tradition, local businesses and organizations threw beads, bags, koozies, T-shirts, pens, candy and more into the crowd. Participants included Raging Rivers WaterPark, Aerie’s Winery and the Grafton Zipline, Pere Marquette and the Nature Institute, Senior Services Plus, the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, the Loading Dock, Grafton Winery, the National Great Rivers Museum, Alton Haunting Tours, Alton/Bethalto Parks and Recreation, the McPike Mansion and Mineral Springs Hotel, Lewis and Clark Community College, Alton Little Theater and the Alton Marina, as well as the CVB and the Argosy Alton Casino.
Representatives from area hotels proved to be on a roll as they tossed toilet tissue into the waiting hands of guests at the event, bringing laughter and cheers from the audience. Kimberly Caughran, representing the Great Godfrey Maze, carefully handed out small trees for planting to the crowd, bringing several people rushing to the stage. Grafton Harbor Marina and Floating Winery gingerly handed bottles of wine to lucky recipients.
Also during the rally, the first new Welcome to Alton sign was unveiled by Ryan Hanlon of Route 3 Films "to thunderous applause." The sign will go up near the Broadway and Illinois 3 intersection where Alton and East Alton meet.
Among the top 150 tourism bureaus in the country, the Alton CVB has won numerous awards for its website design, DVDs, visitors guide and more.
On May 18, the first of eight live webisodes will air at 12:30 p.m. on the CVB’s website at www.visitalton.com and will feature Robert Wadlow. Future webisodes will feature the Piasa Bird, downtown Alton, boating on the Mississippi and more.
So how many vacation days have you accumulated? Our suggestion is to book a summer getaway somewhere “far, far away.”