CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s National Travel and Tourism Week and Illinois is bragging about its visitors.

“Illinois welcomed 110 million visitors from around the country in 2016 and last year, tourism revenue grew three percent across the state,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said. “This is another example that in areas where we can improve the economy, our administration is moving forward. Illinois is the greatest state in the nation. We have so much to be proud of and so many reasons to invite our out-of-state friends to visit the Land of Lincoln.”

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Illinois Tourism Director, Cory Jobe, says they hope to build on the momentum by continuing their “Illinois Made” program, which spotlights more than 70 small businesses who offer experiences.


“When Illinois Made was launched last summer, it was a lose collection of artisans making and selling unique products within the state. These artisans were promoted nationally and internationally as key drivers for Illinois tourism,” Jobe said. “It hasn’t been a year since we launched and we’re thrilled to see travelers responding to the program and checking out every corner of the state.”

At Monday’s kick-off, the Illinois Office of Tourism announced a new Illinois Made series to feature four new, small businesses and artisans based in Illinois. New Illinois Made features include Monday’s host, Optimo Hats. It is in a former Chicago firehouse based in the Beverly neighborhood. Owner Graham Thompson is Chicago’s last true hat maker known for handcrafting custom hats.

Other Illinois Made artisans are Eshelman Pottery in Elizabeth, Heritage Bikes in Chicago and Blaum Brothers Distilling Company in Galena.

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According to Skift and Peak DMC, a global travel expert network, 76 percent of consumers would rather spend money on experiences rather than things. “72 percent of millennials want to have an authentic, unique experience when they travel,” said Jobe.

(WBBM’s Lisa Fielding)

The Illinois Tourism Office is also launching “Art-is-an Experience” travel itineraries.

“We have four new travel itineraries we are enticing visitors to take this summer. A trip down Route 66, beautiful parks, gardens, bike trails and water adventures across Illinois, a tour of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods and hotspots and a guide to taste your way through Springfield, the Great River Road and Southern Illinois,” said Jobe.

“This year’s National Travel and Tourism Week theme recognizes ‘Faces of Travel,’ saluting the amazing people behind the travel industry. Here in Illinois, we want to recognize and promote more of our Illinois Made artisans who are small businesses and job creators helping to drive the state’s economy,” said Jobe.

Adding, “the expanded Illinois Made program will attract new visitors to explore our state, while supporting local businesses and generating important tourism spending for our communities.”

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Jobe says one million more people came to the state last year. “Of those one million additional visitors, 83 percent are leisure travelers. So robust, destination marketing – like the Governor said – really does drive visitors to the state of Illinois. And what’s more, those visitors are staying longer.”