Being big supporters of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB) as we are around here, we often salute the efforts of the RACVB to market Rockford as a travel destination to people outside our area. According to some new numbers released this week, we have good reason to applaud.

With all our region's great museums, sports facilities and entertainment venues, how many visitors did the Rockford area get last year? Take a guess. I'll wait.

Congratulations! If you said 6,789,077 (up from 6,712,147 in 2015), you're absolutely right. And, if you combined that total with event attendance numbers, the region totaled 7,646,375 guests.

RACVB President/CEO John Groh:

"These numbers show just how popular our museums and facilities are, not just for visitors but for our local residents, as well. This growth is aided by the opening of the UW Health Sports Factory, yet we are seeing increases at many of our museums which is a sign that leisure travel in the region is up."

Our region also showed increases at Discovery Center Museum (195,302 visitors), Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens (67,561 visitors) and Anderson Japanese Gardens (60,922 visitors), all of which indicate Rockford has made it on to many people's radar.

Some more of Rockford's numbers, courtesy of the RACVB:

Top Ten Sites and Attractions in 2016 (# of visitors in parentheses)

  1. Mercyhealth Sportscore Complexes & Indoor Sports Center (2,884,713)
  2. Rock Cut State Park (1,095,539)
  3. Ice Facilities - Carlson & Riverview (468,371)
  4. BMO Harris Bank Center/includes Ice Hogs (308,854)
  5. Rockford Park District Golf Courses (210,641)
  6. Discovery Center Museum (195,302)
  7. Rockford Ice Hogs (193,929)
  8. Forest Hills Baseball Diamonds (180,000)
  9. Magic Waters Waterpark (172,687)
  10. Lockwood Park Equestrian Centre (136,291)

Top Ten Events of 2016 (attendance # in parentheses)

  1. Fourth of July Celebration (125,000)
  2. Winnebago County Fair (98,000)
  3. Stroll on State (75,000)
  4. Festival of Lights (58,000)
  5. Old Settlers Days (30,164)
  6. Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition (28,597)
  7. Pec Thing - Spring and Fall (25,000)
  8. Young at Heart Festival (25,000)
  9. Rockford Town Fair (22,000)
  10. RV, Camping and Travel Show (21,262)

So, what does all this mean for Rockford from an economic standpoint? Based on the impact numbers released by the Illinois Office of Tourism in 2016, the tourism industry in Rockford accounted for more than $350 million in spending and supported more than 2,800 jobs.