Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced a new $10 million grants program aimed at revitalizing the hard-hit tourism industry by bringing back new and returning tourism attractions and festivals across the state.
The Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant program is made possible with support from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and is part of a broader effort underway by the Pritzker administration to help reinvigorate tourism in Illinois and to put the industry on a path to economic recovery from COVID-19.
Tourism and festival businesses and entities can submit for grants of up to $1 million that may be used to establish and enhance tourism attractions or festivals planned for this year or 2022.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are depleted with awards made quarterly and the department will have the ability to fund applications most closely aligned to eligibility criteria approved for immediate funding.
“From our state parks to our famous drives to our world-renowned restaurants, wineries, and architecture, Illinois has earned our status as a major international destination for business and leisure travel,” said Pritzker. “In partnership with the General Assembly, I’ve built an expanded tourism recovery grants program to help more of Illinois’ communities reclaim their piece of the pie. We’re bringing visitors back into our communities, supporting our hospitality and entertainment businesses, and helping to return more Illinois residents to the job – another step toward getting our state back on track.”
The Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant program will help develop new or enhance existing tourism attractions located across the state — including but not limited to museums, businesses, events, performances, and festivals. To maximize the impact of the program, DCEO will utilize ARPA federal recovery dollars to provide grants ranging from $10,000 to $1 million and will require a local match.
The goal of the program is to attract additional visitors and overnight stays that will bring foot traffic back in communities across Illinois.
“Travel and tourism play a vital role in our Illinois economy, fueling hundreds of thousands of jobs and driving significant economic activity across our communities every year,” said Sylvia Garcia, acting director of the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO).
Eligible applicants include units of local government, municipalities, county, not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, or local promotions groups. The funds may be utilized for capital projects, equipment, training, transportation, housing, receptions, entertainment, photography, temporary housing, and interpretive programs, like exhibits and installations — to further develop new attractions and events to attract visitors to Illinois. In turn, these grants will result in increased visitor spending in local communities, generating revenue and creating jobs for Illinoisans.
“Illinois’ travel and tourism industry is an enormous economic and brand driver for the state,” said Dave Herrell, chairman of the Illinois Council of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (ICCVB). “This investment announced (Aug. 10) will further possibilities for communities to leverage and invigorate their respective destinations and tourism marketing efforts. Illinois must remain competitive in both leisure and business travel and continue to add value for the state’s visitor economy. These resources are yet another opportunity to enhance Illinois’ assets, create jobs, and showcase the state.”
Proposed attractions and festivals must demonstrate how this award will help businesses in the surrounding area and will be evaluated based on marketing value and ability to attract visitors for overnight stays. Projects will score higher based on proximity to commercial corridors and services — including hotels/motels, restaurants, retail, and other commercial operations. Attractions include but are not limited to: museums and cultural centers; theme/amusement parks; outdoor activities and recreation sites; and other facilities or businesses that attract or serve visitors.
This additional support for the tourism industry follows on the launch of a new campaign earlier this year to reinvigorate the industry and to support convention and visitor bureau (CVB) partners in attracting visitors back into all areas across the state. “Time for Me to Drive,” is the first new tourism campaign since COVID-19 hit last year and seizes on pent up travel demand — namely road trips — to encourage residents and visitors to enjoy Illinois’ diverse communities and scenic landscapes safely. The campaign encompasses over 60 unique itineraries – more information can be found at the State’s official tourism website, enjoyillinois.com.
“The $10 million in tourism recovery grants from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will provide our diverse communities a springboard to attract visitors to experience Illinois’ world-class museums, iconic festivals, and historic landmarks. My legislative colleagues and I on the House Tourism Committee look forward to working with the Pritzker Administration to build a re-energized, re-imagined, 21st Century Illinois tourism industry,” ,” said Rep. Lamont J. Robinson, Jr. (D-Chicago), Chair of the House Tourism Committee.”
A technical assistance webinar will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 25, from 1 – 2 p.m. to explain application requirements, program eligibility and program guidelines. To sign up for the webinar, visit this link.