Visitors to Winnebago county have set a record. In particular, a spending record. How does a $340 million injection into the local economy sound? Thanks to a 6.3% increase over the year before, we have enjoyed the highest percentage increase in tourism of all the state's major metro areas.

Once again, kudos to John Groh and The Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB) for a job well done. They've provided some numbers to go along with the good news:

Attendance to sites, attractions and events in Winnebago County also grew in 2014. The region’s tourism attractions and events welcomed 7,604,578 guests in 2014, an increase of 2.9 percent or about 300,000 visits.

“These numbers show that Rockford’s appeal as a place to visit is growing. Word is getting out and folks are not only taking notice, they are taking action and traveling to the region,” said John Groh, president and CEO of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau – the region’s destination marketing and management organization.

The $340 million spent by visitors generated $5.57 million in local tax receipts – funds that help local governments pay for services residents rely on – a 6.1% increase. In addition, tourism in Winnebago County supported 2,700 jobs in the hospitality sector, generating nearly $45 million in payroll. State tax coffers were filled with $18.94 million, a 7.3% increase. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Tourism announced the economic figures today during an event at Rockford’s Prairie Street Brewhouse. 

It appears as though the whole state of Illinois is benefiting from an increase in visitors:

In 2014, the State of Illinois hosted more than 109.4 million visitors, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2013, generating more than $36.3 billion in travel expenditures. This marks the fourth consecutive year of record-breaking tourism industry numbers for the state. 

Taking a look at some more great numbers for our area:

The Top 5 attractions in the Rockford Region in 2014 were:
1)       Sportscore Complexes / Indoor Sports Center – 2,867,173
2)       Rock Cut State Park – 1,059,183
3)       Ice Facilities (Carlson & Riverview) – 477,590
4)       BMO Harris Bank Center (includes IceHogs) – 292,210
5)       Forest Hills Baseball Diamonds – 280,000
The Top 5 Events in the Rockford Region in 2014 were:
1)       Rockford AirFest – 135,000
2)       Fourth of July Celebration – 125,000
3)       Winnebago County Fair – 93,000
4)       Stroll on State – 60,000
5)       Festival of Lights – 45,000

2014 Winnebago County Tourism Highlights
In addition to the 300 sports tournaments and other events and conferences influenced by RACVB, the following events added economic impact to the local economy:

  • “Rockford AirFest 2014: Let the Thunder Roll” event brought more than 135,000 to the Chicago Rockford International Airport on June 7-8. The AirFest featured the USAF Thunderbird Demonstration Team and the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
  • The region hosted many sports tournaments, such as the annual Puma Cup, USSSA Softball and the Olympic Development Program Soccer Camps and Tournament, and attracted more than 2.8 million local and out of town players, coaches and fans over the 2014 year at the Sportscore complexes.
  • The Rockford City Market season attracted more than 75,000 attendees despite having two weeks cancelled due to inclement weather.
  • The Rockford IceHogs remained a strong draw for visitors to the downtown and its host arena, bringing in 183,753 ice hockey fans.
  • The Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens attendance increased by 10,000, up to 46,910 in attendance.
  • The Prairie Street Brewhouse Dinner on the Dock, Anderson Japanese Gardens’ Tuesday Evening in the Gardens, Old Settlers Days and the Head of the Rock Regatta all saw increases in attendance.
  • The 2nd annual “Stroll on State” doubled its attendance from 2013. This holiday celebration brought 60,000 to this event versus 30,000 in 2013. The event earned the title “Best in Show” in 2014 at the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel & Tourism.

Numbers and highlights courtesy of RACVB.