More People Making Illinois Their Destination

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By Amy Fox
By Randy Livingston

CYPRESS--  Illinois tourism is celebrating a record. Numbers out this month show more people are coming to the state for leisure and business. Nearly 106 million visitors were in Illinois last year, generating more than $2.5 billion.

Nestled off of Route 37 sits the Cache Wetlands Center in Cypress. It may be a hidden Illinois gem to some, but this attraction is helping to drive the state's tourism industry.

"Southern Illinois has some of the best attractions around. People are always so surprised when I say, 'Did you know you can go canoeing in the northern most Cypress swamp in the world?'  Like so excited," said Jen Hoelzle, Illinois Office of Tourism Director.

From leisure and business travelers to international guests, the Illinois Office of Tourism is welcoming more people to sites like Cache Wetlands Center. 

Hoelzle said, "I think the economy is coming back, and I think tourism really led the economy in that comeback after we came out of the recession. People were just ready to travel, you know, we got just a little extra money in our pocket and we said where can we go?"

In 2012, 101 million people visited Illinois. Last year, the number grew by millions more.

"105.7 million visitors traveled to and within the state of Illinois in 2013, and we want to keep that going in 2014, and we truly can't do it without great places like this," said Hoelzle.

Regionally, tourism produced $185 million in revenue, which has a ripple effect on local economies. 

"It brings jobs. It brings a lot of people into the area that supports our local businesses and tourism also improves the quality of life," said Cindy Cain, executive director of the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau.

As tourism continues to thrive, the Office of Tourism is turning to Illinois' favorite son and using mini Abe Lincoln commercials to promote the state's attractions. 

Hoelzle said, "You have to be cutting edge. You got to be able to show them what they can do, where they are."

"We really have a lot to offer visitors that keep bringing their family and friends back time and again," said Cain.

The Illinois Office of Tourism hopes those Lincoln commercials and other promotions will continue to push up visitor numbers. Their goal - to put places like Crab Orchard Lake on the map. 

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