Driving on I-90 Southbound from Wisconsin is a typical route for me and my friends visiting from Milwaukee. And since I live in Chicago, and most of them are either from the area or have been here so many times they feel like they live here, we're never been in need of any Chicago tourist information. But for the people who have never ventured across the border--though that's a rarity--or for the ones visiting from other states, they need all the help they can get. But unfortunately for them, they won't find any on I-90, or I-55, or I-80. I think you see where I'm going with this...
The news this morning reported that 13 of the 15 tourist information centers sprinkled throughout the state were shut down on account of budget issues. This means those convenient little kiosks at interstate rest stops have shuttered their windows and sent their employees packing. The reason? Only state contracts that pertained to health and security were approved by the governor's budget office. The only two centers left are the Springfield and Chicago locations, which are run by volunteers. Tourism has taken a serious blow in the state budget.
This event has caused tourism offices around the state to wonder about their own budgets as well as how they will be able to continue to attract visitors. With these cuts being made, state tourism bureaus are concerned that they could be next. But most feel this would be a huge mistake for Illinois. According to reports, tourism generates $2.1 billion in tax revenues annually for Illinois and its communities and creates 303,000 jobs. The tourism centers were generally the first stop people made when entering the state, generating $68 million for Illinois' economy. Now that resource--and the revenue--is gone. And with no set budget for tourism set for fiscal 2011, it seems the closing of these centers is only the beginning.
For now the tourism offices can only wait for their budgets to be approved for next year, but fears of more cuts and closures are escalating as Illinois sinks further and further into debt.