Dahl: Tourism numbers 'certainly' will be impacted by recent storm

The head of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau said it is too early to tell what effect the June 29 storms had in terms of tourism numbers and dollars.

As of noon time Monday, several hotel properties on the South Dirksen Parkway corridor, including the Crowne Plaza, were still without power.

Amber Sabin, a spokeswoman for City Water, Light and Power, said the utility hoped to have repairs finalized by Tuesday, if not later Monday.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross's emergency shelter operation at the Bank of Springfield (BOS) Center in downtown Springfield shut down Monday with only a handful of power outages being reported.

Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Scott Dahl, in a file photo.
Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Scott Dahl, in a file photo.

The agency, which covers south central Illinois, sprung to action, first setting up a shelter at the Springfield NAACP on East Cook Street two days after the storms before moving to the BOS Center on July 4.

Visit Springfield Director Scott Dahl told The State Journal-Register Monday that the agency was fielding calls from visitors across the country about what sort of shape the city was in.

It will use social media, emails and other means to update visitors about the city, he said.

"Because the derecho storm made national news, we were getting inquiries whether Springfield was open at all," Dahl said. "We're having to think about the messaging as we get all of the power returned. Certainly, we don't want people to see either videos or reports nationally that it appears that our community was completely devastated and that we're not open at all. We don't want that misconception out there.

"It'll certainly have an impact on our numbers."

The storm hit as a national car show at the Crowne Plaza that Visit Springfield helped come here was getting into gear, Dahl said. Another show, the Palomino World Championship centered at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, also was impacted.

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This week, Springfield plays host to the state American Legion convention, though it is centralized in the downtown area. Around 1,500 attendees are expected, according to Dahl.

Hotels also affected were Comfort Inn and Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn and the Drury Inn & Suites.

It was business as usual for Springfield tourist sites, like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Lincoln Home.

Dahl said he will have a better handle in mid-August what the storm meant when the July numbers are released.

"We'll really be able to evaluate what that week looked like comparable to last year and some pre-pandemic years on what happened, and did we have some travelers re-route or postpone their visit because they were unsure of Springfield's status," Dahl said.

"I felt we had a lot of momentum, especially after the first four months of the year. We're on pace with pre-pandemic occupancy numbers and we have historic average daily rate numbers and so it really looks like we can be moving towards a record tourism year. You just hope something like this doesn't take away that momentum."

The exact impact on local tourism may be unknown, but state tourism figures revealed Monday the recently concluded fiscal year 2023 was a record-breaker for Illinois. According to the Pritzker administration, hotel revenues reached $308 million in FY23 while welcoming 111 million visitors to the state in 2022.

Over 15 utility poles were snapped during the storm, Mayor Misty Buscher told the Sam Madonia Show earlier Monday. The project to get the poles back in place began immediately after the storm.

Buscher thanked the Red Cross and its volunteers for coming to the community’s aid.

“Their team has been an invaluable partner in this phase of our city’s recovery and has helped us demonstrate how challenges can be overcome and how strong and united Springfield can be when faced with adversity," Buscher said.

The agency's disaster support line remains available for those who need support or other resources 24/7. That number is 1-800-733-2767.

Reporter Patrick Keck contributed to this report. Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Hotels without power will affect tourism numbers in Springfield IL