Southern Illinoisans have the opportunity to gaze upon the region's natural settings, as well as take advantage of its beauty with just a short drive.
Yet, tourism bureaus have the task of attracting those outside of the area to see what it has to offer.
As the weather begins to warm up, so does the tourism season. And with sites such as Giant City State Park in Makanda to the Garden of the Gods, which covers the counties of Saline, Pope and Hardin, tourism budgets begin expending money to bring in visitors.
“What we really push, and what I think Southern Illinois has is good bed and breakfasts, cabins, nature, hiking and beautiful scenery,” said Michael Jones, director of Murphysboro Tourism Commission. “Southern Illinois is really a series of small sites in a large area.”
The Garden of the Gods, for example, has five and a half miles of interconnecting trails for hikers to explore, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. Camping is affordable as the Pharaoh Campground has 12 campsites with a fire pit, picnic tables, toilets and drinking water for a $10 camping fee. If campers are looking to get away from crowds, the nearest town is about 20 minutes away.
Jones said the tourism commission looks for those who want to come to the region and stay for longer than one day, which is harder to accomplish than just bringing people to Southern Illinois to eat and shop.
“You always advertise to get people to come and stay overnight,” he said. “That is the ultimate goal.”
Most tourism bureaus are funded by hotel/motel taxes in a county or city. Jones said Murphysboro Tourism is funded by hotel taxes in Murphysboro and part of the cabin and bed and breakfast tax in Jackson County. He said the commission gets 2 percent of the cabin tax in the county.
Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens confirmed that commission gets 100 percent of the hotel tax, but currently that is only coming from one hotel – America’s Best Value Inn. He said the commission received tax from the Apple Tree Inn when it still functioned as a hotel.
Carbondale Tourism also feeds off the hotel tax, but it is not funded exactly the same as others, said Carbondale Tourism Executive Director Cinnamon Wheeles-Smith.
She said in Carbondale the city collects all the hotel tax and then the tourism agency submits a preliminary budget showing what it would like to spend. Once the city finalizes its budget, it gives the agency what it wants for funding.
For FY 2017, Carbondale Tourism received $311,900 from the city, according to the city’s budget, which was adopted Tuesday by the City Council.
Tourism in Carbondale is a bit different, Wheels-Smith said because of its nightlife. She said the agency promotes the hiking trails, lakes and Shawnee Wine Trail, but then promotes the fact that visitors can come back to the city for a meal and a show in the city.
“What is good for Carbondale is good for the region, and what is good for the region is usually good for Carbondale,” she said.
Wheeles-Smith said Carbondale Tourism is gearing up for the Aug. 21, 2017, Total Eclipse. She said the agency is working on a regional level with Southernmost Tourism and Williamson County Tourism Bureau to get the word out for counties affected by the eclipse. She said the group of agencies have submitted a grant application to the USDA to build a website for the region. It would allow businesses and organizations to post activities and assist in marketing for those wanting to travel to the region for the eclipse.
In addition, Wheeles-Smith said Carbondale Tourism is planning to build a website specific to Carbondale to allow for material that may not be able to be posted to Southern Illinois University’s website for the eclipse. She said it would give Carbondale residents the chance to post about renting their apartment to visitors, potential camping spots or alcohol-related events.
She said it has been speculated that hotel rooms price could be doubled, but hoteliers have not confirmed the rumor. She said many places are not even taking reservations until August.
“These are private business and they have a right to post their prices at the time they want or take reservations at the time that they can,” she said.