Travel and tourism plays a huge role in every economy—from hotels to dining, tours to attractions—tourism helps drive tax dollars down and provides numerous jobs for people across the state. In 2015, Illinois welcomed more than 111.1 million visitors, which generated more than $37.2 billion in travel expenditures for the state. This in turn helped reduce the amount of taxes paid by residents and created more jobs by supporting local businesses, including those businesses run by Illinois’ artisans and craftspeople, whom we highlight as part of our ongoing Illinois Made initiative.
Illinois Made businesses across the state exemplify this year’s theme for National Travel and Tourism Week by the U.S. Travel Association – “The Faces of Travel.” Taking place this year May 7-13, the “Faces of Travel” theme aims to shine a spotlight on the people that make the travel experience what it is. From hotel managers to acclaimed chefs to local entrepreneurs offering one-of-a-kind products and experiences, these people do their jobs to ensure guests and travelers enjoy their stay in our state’s destinations.
Illinois has many faces of travel and Illinois Made showcases the faces of the state’s amazing makers, artisans and craftspeople, each creating unique local products. U.S. small businesses added 14 million new jobs in 2014, and Illinois Made makers help employ residents in Illinois. The program encourages visitors to extend their travel beyond a day trip and explore the local businesses and attractions in the nearby area. According to market research, 78 percent of Millennials are looking to learn something new while traveling, which we hope they will find by visiting our Illinois Made makers—who can be found all over, including various towns in Southern Illinois.
If you’ve ever wondered what beer with hickory, lavender or juniper tastes like, you must try the award-winning concoctions brewed at Scratch Brewing Company in Ava. Using only farm-gathered Illinois ingredients, Scratch creates original recipes for every small-batch brew, making beers for every beer lover. It’s a great place to kick back and hang out with friends while enjoying a truly unique brew.
Looking for a sweeter beverage that is also made here in Illinois? Apple Knocker Hard Cider in Cobden produces delicious and innovative American ciders for all to enjoy. The cider-making facility partners with century-old apple orchards and picks only the highest quality apples for production. Sip on the ciders at their tasting room or pick up a four pack—they sell all over the Midwest!
Just a drive away is another Southern Illinois maker—Longshadow Gardens in Pomona. With the company motto being Fabricio in Horto Nostro, Latin for “Factory in a Garden,” owners Charlotte and Daniel Ward create beautiful dry cast planter designs for gardens across the world—including the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Dallas and Dubai, to Chicago’s Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, among others. The facility itself provides a serene and peaceful ambience, allowing guests to stroll along and be one with nature.
Continue on to Greenville to learn about the seventh-generation family cheese makers at Marcoot Jersey Creamery. Using traditional Swiss cheese cave techniques to age their 16 varieties of artisan and farmstead cheeses, Marcoot produces delicious products that are natural, and energy efficient! Visitors can purchase cheese on-site or take a tour of the family’s farm. It’s a unique experience for any traveler looking to taste, see and live Illinois like Marcoot Jersey Creamery does on a daily basis.
Our Illinois Made makers really demonstrate what it means to “be” Illinois and craft some amazing products and experiences to share with our visitors. People travel miles to experience all there is to see and do in the state and it is important to share with them a little bit of what Illinois is all about through our Illinois Made program. Travel and tourism touches every aspect of Illinois, and I encourage you, as Illinoisans, to go out and experience something you never have before. It’s sitting right here in your own backyard!
Make it a goal or something to add to your bucket list; visit all of the Illinois Made makers in your area, I know you’ll enjoy every last one of them. For more about the Illinois Made program and other travel ideas, please visit the brand-new www.enjoyillinois.com.
Cory Jobe is Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism and responsible for leading the state’s tourism marketing and development efforts.