Route 66 News

Pontiac tourism rises 40 percent in 2011

A few months ago, Pontiac Tourism director Ellie Alexander reported that tourism in Pontiac, Ill., was trending at a 30 percent higher level than in 2010.

Note I said “trending.” I was skeptical the numbers would remain at that lofty level, especially when the off-season was looming.

It turns out Alexander was either being modest in her claims, or underestimated Pontiac’s tourism staying power to close the year. In the calendar year 2011, Pontiac drew 19,065 visitors — a 40.65 percent increase over 2010’s total of 13,554. And, yes, that was a record.

The numbers come from head counts compiled by docents at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s certain the actual number in Pontiac was higher, since a few of them didn’t go to the museum but checked out other attractions instead.

Interesting facts gathered from Alexander’s report:

  • In 2010, Pontiac tourism rose about 20 percent, from 11,220 visitors the previous year.
  • The busiest day in 2011 was July 23, when the new Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum opened. A total of 580 people visited that day.
  • The Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum logged about 7,000 over 9,000 visitors in less than a half-year of being open.
  • Pontiac’s busiest months were May through October, with monthly visitor counts hovering at the 2,000 to 3,200 range.
  • Visitors to Pontiac came from 57 nations.
  • The later off-season months — November and December — showed much stronger visitor numbers than the early off-season months of January and February.
  • In 2011, Pontiac averaged about 52 visitors a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But with many of them buying souvenirs or eating meals in town, that translates to probably thousands of dollars of revenue each day.

Alexander has said Pontiac’s multiple museums and the town courting tour companies were big reasons for the increase. But when asked in an email what one thing other Route 66 towns could do to boost visitor numbers, she came up with an interesting answer:

I’d have to go with hospitality. Just about every compliment we receive starts with the hospitality they received while visiting us. The friendly local smile and engagement by everyone from the docent at the museum, to the passer-by on the street, to the Mayor greeting them with a handshake goes a long way. Especially with the international visitors – they love the “Americana” feel they get here. They tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on.

Alexander says she anticipates an even bigger influx of British visitors in 2012, because of the “Billy Connolly’s Route 66″ program that aired in the United Kingdom in September and October.

We’ve also had visitors from the UK who have seen it, and are so very excited when they are on the bus, standing where Billy stood! They ask questions about our time with Billy and what he is like – he’s a real super-star in their eyes.

UPDATE: Alexander said Wednesday the Pontiac-Oakland museum didn’t include its opening-week numbers. The total number of visitors in 2011 there was 9,494.