Tourism promotion is underway in the area, with pop-up stops from the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau and new events in Grafton

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ALTON — Four pop-up stops featuring Traveler, the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau’s new mobile visitor center, are scheduled for May 4-6.

Cory Jobe, president and CEO of the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau, said the bureau sees National Travel and Tourism Week as a great way to start the summer travel season.

“Travel benefits and supports local economies and reconnects us to each other and to the world,” he said. “It’s one of the driving forces of the industry, and we’re proud to be part of the #Future of Travel.”

The traveler foresees four stops:


• Wednesday, May 4: 8:30-10:30 a.m. at Kruta Bakery, 300 St. Louis Rd., Collinsville

• Wednesday, May 4: 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Visitor Center, 334 N. Old Route 66, Litchfield

• Thursday, May 5: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Global Brew Tap House, 2329 Plum St., Edwardsville

• Friday, May 6: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Old Bakery Beer Company, 400 Landmarks Blvd., Alton.

Visitor Center staff will be available to answer questions and encourage people to enter a draw for a $250 gas card at each stop. A QR code available only during events will direct people to an online registration form. Fuel cards will be given after each stop; winners will be contacted by phone or email.

This week, the University of Illinois expansion is also focusing on tourism, especially rural outdoor activities following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Tourism can be an engine of economic growth for rural communities,” says Sharon Zou, assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism. “Many people have traveled to sparsely populated rural destinations during the pandemic, allowing communities to reimagine their potential for tourism development.”

The I-Rural project, funded by Extension and Illinois’ Office of the Provost Investment for Growth Program, is creating a model to guide rural tourism development across the state. Grafton – along with Havana, Savanna and Galena – is piloting the project.

The project team met with local officials, business owners and residents of the four communities, according to Joelle Soulard, assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism. Each community has identified its challenges and opportunities; now, researchers hope to identify the motivations and constraints of tourists.

“We encourage communities to adopt a ‘bigger’ mindset, working together as a team to achieve common goals,” Soulard said. Instead of seeing other businesses as competitors, the bigger mentality thinks that if more options are available, people are more likely to come to communities.

“They understand that they have a common destiny; they are in it together,” says Soulard. “The tide is rising, so everyone is enjoying it.”

Jennifer Russell, Community and Economic Development Educator, serves communities and businesses in Western Illinois.

“Grafton has always been sightseeing to some degree,” Russell said. “But this opportunity has given them a chance to come together, recharge and prioritize their next projects. The region combines natural beauty with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic.

After an I-Rural listening session, the Grafton team updated their streetscape plan and applied for a grant, Russell said. Community leaders recognized the collective benefit of hosting more annual events and initiating new collaborations to develop family-friendly events and festivals.

The group also recognized the need for more digital marketing and grant writing workshops, as well as developing a unified message for the community. Russell said the Grafton team identified a need to diversify dining options and add more kid-friendly dishes and themed items, such as “bluff bites” and “fudge à la Mississippi mud”.

In the second year of the grant, the I-Rural team will help develop marketing resources based on the researchers’ findings that will be made available by Extension to all communities in Illinois.

“This work is going to form an assortment, if you will, of tactics and strategies that will be available for people across the state to choose from and learn from without having to do the work themselves,” said Mike Delany, Extension community and economic development educator.

Zou said it usually takes years for researchers to build relationships and trust communities to get quality data, but by collaborating with Extension, the effort has made “great progress in one year.”

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