The number of tourists to the Route 66 town of Pontiac, Ill., increased for the fourth straight year in 2013, according to numbers released this week by Pontiac Tourism.
Tourism director Ellie Alexander said overall tourism numbers rose by 5 percent during the year, to a record 24,173. Pontiac saw robust increases in international visitors (23 percent) and group tours (27 percent).
According to a news release from the office:
Included in this year’s visitor count are guests from more than 60 different countries, numerous car clubs from Illinois and the adjoining states, and film crews from Spain, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and Spain. Pontiac’s VIP program, that provides visitors with a collector button and entitles them to special treatment in many Pontiac businesses, saw commensurate growth in 2013 as well.
Among the most popular attractions in Pontiac for 2013 were the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum, and Pontiac’s 23 outdoor murals. For tourists who explore Pontiac as a self-guided tour, the city utilizes a mobile device-based tour option. An increased number of tourists accessed this information data base via their cell phones in 2013.
Alexander provided a breakdown in the visitor numbers:
- Illinois, 8,603
- Other states, 4,132
- International visitors, 5,527
- Groups, 5,911
The busiest days were May 4 and May 5, during the Illinois Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor Festival. More than 1,000 visitors came during both days.
Visitor numbers are derived from sign-ins at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. Alexander said she’s confident the actual number of visitors is around 40,000.
Alexander also noted that more than 50 tour groups are booked for 2014, with more expected. “We expect to set another record in the year ahead.”
Alexander has attributed Pontiac’s healthy tourism numbers in recent years to an effort to attract tour groups and favorable word-of-mouth, especially from international visitors. Townsfolk try to give tourists a hospitable welcome when they arrive, she said.
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.