Things are pretty tough right now, but the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB) says that prior to the impact of COVID-19 and record losses in the industry, Rockford and Winnebago County achieved an unprecedented ten-years of growth in its tourism sector.

We've been spotlighting and cheering on the good people at the RACVB for years now, and pointing out that their strategies for drawing interest and people to the Rockford area is both inspired and inspiring. Their events keep getting bigger and better, and the positivity in their message about all the great things in the Rockford area is definitely paying off in the region. Things were progressing beautifully until this whole pandemic thing came crashing down around us.

You don't even have to take my word for it.

According to new data released by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, in 2019 the economic impact of the tourism sector in Winnebago County grew by 4.3 percent, outpacing the state growth average of 3.3 percent. During the year, visitors spent more than $409 million while visiting Winnebago County and directly supported the livelihood of 3,091 area residents with employment income of $100 million.

Visitors also generated increased funds for local and state tax coffers to use for core services such as police, fire and public works. In 2019, visitors paid $25.3 million in state and $7.2 million in local tax receipts (up 9.3 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively).

And, it's not just growth in Winnebago County and surrounding areas that we're talking about here. The Illinois Office of Tourism reported both international and domestic travel expenditures grew to $43.1 billion in 2019, which is a $1.3 billion increase to the state’s economy over 2018. More than 120 million visitors came to Illinois in 2019 (the ninth-straight year of record tourism growth in the state) contributing to an increase of visitor spending, tax revenue and local jobs.

Give the RACVB a big pat on the back for a job that's continuing to be very well done. Andrea from the RACVB joins the WROK Morning Show every Wednesday morning at 8:35 with a look ahead as to what's going on over the weekend.