Illinois is a traveler’s dream. Nature lovers find adventure in the great outdoors; culture seekers discover cities and towns full of rich history and incredible art; and foodies enjoy world-class dining and locally-produced delicacies all over the state.
It’s no wonder that 120 million visitors each year made Illinois a destination of choice, bringing with them an annual spend upwards of $40 billion.
With COVID-19, that changed. But even with significant restrictions on travel, visitors to Illinois still generated a $23 billion spend last year. It’s testament to the pull of travel, the ongoing efforts of state and local tourism organizations to inspire and guide visitors, and the timeless attraction of all that Illinois offers.
There are countless ways to experience that attraction. But for a true taste of what makes Illinois special, you can’t overlook the classic road trip, a tried-and-true favorite.
The Land of the Road Trip
Home to seven national scenic byways, including the famed Route 66, Illinois is truly the land of the road trip.
If you jump in a car and start driving, you’re sure to find a memorable experience. But the Illinois Office of Tourism makes it a bit easier with its website, enjoyillinois.com. It’s a resource that shares Illinois’ best things to do, places to stay and ways to explore —including an impressive collection of road trip itineraries.
These guides took on a new significance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Road trips allow people to explore the state in their own way, giving them full control over the pace of travel and the destinations with which they’re most comfortable. And the itineraries encourage travelers to visit attractions and businesses with which they might not be so familiar—or which might have felt a bigger impact during the pandemic.
Supporting Local Artisans and Businesses
Road trip itineraries also offer an opportunity to highlight another one of Illinois’ key strengths: its makers, creators and artisans, via the Illinois Office of Tourism’s Illinois Made program.
Launched in 2016, Illinois Made tells the stories of the craftspeople, artists, family-owned businesses, small-batch breweries, distilleries, foodies and farmers that make the state special.
The program celebrates their skills and provides visitors with the authentic tastes and experiences of Illinois that they won’t find anywhere else.
Next Stop …
The Illinois tourism industry performed remarkably well through 2020. But to ensure it remains strong, the state has made a number of investments.
More than $75 million of Business Interruption Grants have gone to tourism-related businesses, and another $133 million to restaurants and bars. A $6 million investment brought the “Time For Me To Drive” road trips campaign to life.
And in August 2021, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced a new program to make the future of Illinois tourism even brighter.
Using money from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $10 million Tourism Attractions and Festival Grants program will support Illinois organizations to create new events and attractions or enhance existing ones.
Tourism in Illinois has been reignited. And as pent-up demand keeps translating into trips and hotel stays, the Land of Lincoln is poised to come back stronger than ever.
To start planning your Illinois getaway, visit enjoyillinois.com.
Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.