Businesses and chambers of commerce along Route 66, take note — data collected at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, Ill., indicate that tourism there has risen nearly 30 percent in 2011, compared to the same period a year ago.
According to a news release today from Ellie Alexander, director of Pontiac Tourism:
“The biggest increase has been in the number of tour groups who are stopping here in Pontiac to visit our many attractions. Tour groups are up a healthy 69%.” The tour groups category includes coach bus tours, car clubs, motorcycle groups, women’s clubs, church groups, student groups, and other clubs and organizations.
Alexander provided more details, explaining that number of visitors from outside of the United States was up 32%, visitors from Illinois up 24%, and visitors from other states up 7.6%. “The lower numbers for out-of-state visitors may be a reflection of the higher gasoline prices which were in effect for the first part of the year,” Alexander said. “A recent trend moving gas prices lower may be reflected in the attendance figures for the next quarter.”
In addition to being home to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, Pontiac has the International Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum, the Livingston County War Museum, 21 large and colorful outdoor murals, nine Looking For Lincoln exhibits, five Route 66 Heritage wayside exhibits, several historic homes, a quaint turn-of-the-century downtown shopping district, and opening soon, the new Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum and Resource Center.
I asked Alexander by email whether Pontiac Tourism had specifically tried to attract more tour groups:
We do. I attend coach bus trade shows, and area car shows/festivals. We’ve been building our database with visitor information and send out our monthly newsletter to them.
I think that a lot of it is being spread through word of mouth from past visitors as well. The coach bus industry is a very close industry, and share information among themselves. Our international operators have been doing a wonderful job of spreading the word about us to their fellow guides.
So there it is. I wouldn’t tell anyone how to do their business. But if you’ve got a town that increases tourism by nearly a third during a weak economy, someone there is doing something right.