Bureau directors Peggy Lee and Gail Sasse offered a PowerPoint
presentation on the bureau and the work they are doing in Lincoln
and Logan County. Lee is the bureau's vice chair and Sasse is
Also present in the gallery were several other tourism
bureau members, including Stacie Wachtel, board president; Barbara
Stroud-Borth, from Mount Pulaski, a director; Andy Anderson, county
board liaison to tourism; Bill Hoagland, Main Street Lincoln's
executive director; and David Doolin, who is working with the
tourism bureau on developing smartphone applications to help promote
local sites and businesses.
Lee and Sasse worked together to offer an overview of the
bureau's strategic plan. Lee explained their vision and mission
statements, then moved on to tell the council the strategic plan for
the bureau is divided into three parts: the immediate ongoing
projects, short-term projects and long-term projects. She said the
group works to promote Lincoln and Logan County through advertising
campaigns that encourage overnight stays. She explained the
operative goal "heads in beds" means dollars spent on motel rooms,
food, and gas, as well as local shopping.
Each council member was given a packet from the tourism bureau,
the same as are given directly to visitors when they attend local
events. Packets are handed out at the Logan County Fair, the
Railsplitter Festival and at the courthouses.
Throughout the presentation, Lee and Sasse presented several "Did
you know...?" facts about local attractions and the tourism bureau.
Among those facts: Lincoln Heritage Museum had 4,000 visitors in
2012. Postville Courthouse had 1,716 visitors in 2012. Among those
visits, 243 were from out of state and 63 were international
visitors. Gail's Pumpkin Patch in rural Beason had 11,000 visitors
in 2012. Of those 450 attended as a result of the tourism bureau's
Farm Tour Day.
Financially, the bureau makes generous donations to the Lincoln
Heritage Museum, invests approximately $100 per month in their
information packets, and supports the annual Lincoln Art & Balloon
Festival and the 1800's Craft Fair at Postville Courthouse during
The group also works to help promote Lincoln as a venue for
sporting activities and is part of the Sports Commission. The bureau
had accomplished getting Lincoln as a listing in the Illinois Play
Book, which goes out to organizations seeking sporting event venues.
It was noted that Lincoln hosts 16 different sports with 14
Mayor Keith Snyder asked if the tourism bureau supported the
basketball tournament. He didn't specify what tournament he was
referring to, but Lee said the bureau does support the annual Trojan
tournament hosted each February by Lincoln Junior High School. She
said the group assists financially with that event. They have also
provided tourism packets at the various schools where the games are
Sasse told the council that inside their annual budget, $23,660
is earmarked for use in Lincoln in 2013 and $9,410 is earmarked for
locations throughout the county.
On their list of short-term goals, the bureau is working on
projects with the Lincoln College Museum, the Logan County Looking
for Lincoln program and Postville Courthouse. In addition, they are
working with the Illinois Department of Transportation on getting
highway signage and markers in the area.
Included in their long-term plans are hospitality training
programs for local businesses. These trainings will be aimed at
assisting local business owners in being able to point out various
items of interest to their visitors.
The group is also continuing work with restoration and signage
projects. Lee pointed out that tourism has worked with state
agencies to bring the wayside signage program to Lincoln and Logan
County. They are working to have Lincoln and Logan County sites
become a part of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, which
Lee said involved a lot of man-hours invested in paperwork.
Lee talked about the bureau being a certified bureau, something
that is not available to municipalities. She said the certification
enables the bureau to apply for grant funding. In addition, they are
part of the the Illinois Council of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, which gives them an
opportunity to take advantage of collective marketing programs.
The presenters talked about the work they are doing with David
Doolin in creating smartphone applications that will help steer
visitors from one point of interest to another throughout the
community. A big part of that application will be information about
local motels, eateries, shopping spots and more.
Lee told the council that they will soon be hearing from the
Downtown Revitalization Steering Committee about tourism's role in
the downtown projects, and they are looking forward to seeing what
that role will be.
Lee said all the work they do is about "heads in beds." She said
the average overnight visitor to Lincoln will spend $200 on lodging,
food, gasoline and shopping.
Some of the slides shown during the presentation included one
showing that since 2005, the hotel-motel tax has increased 32
percent. She was asked how many new motels had come to the area in
that time, and she noted the change to Best Western and the
establishment of a Hampton Inn in the area. She told the council
that having the name-brand motels in the community -- Best Western,
Hampton and Holiday Inn, for example -- was good for the city in
that people enjoy having their favorite motel chains in a community,
and they search for that when they are considering a visit.
She also noted that Best Western and Hampton in particular work
with tourism by promoting special pricing during special events. She
noted the April activities going on in Elkhart. She said the motels
are offering significant discounts to Elkhart visitors, and Elkhart
events were scheduled across two days each time in order to promote
Finally, Lee said another goal of the bureau would be to move
their offices to a location closer to Interstate 55, so as to be
more easily located by visitors.
Lee said the bureau was pleased to be presenting to the council
and would like to return in July for another presentation. She asked
that the council give her guidance on what they might want her to
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David Wilmert expressed an interest in knowing more about the
number of international visitors who come to Lincoln.
Other questions that were posed to Lee and Sasse included how
they arrived at their counts for the visitors to the world's largest
covered wagon. They had reported the wagon receives approximately
1,500 visits per month. The bureau owns, maintains and insures the
wagon. Lee said there is a cooperative with Best Western and Logan
Lanes, with personnel of the businesses noting the visitors they see
at the site. In addition the bureau does the same thing, plus they
count the number of brochures being taken out of the information box
at the wagon.
They were also asked how they came up with the $200 per person
overnight stay figure. Lee said they had estimated that figure based
on current costs for lodging, food and gasoline.
Snyder asked that they provide a precise breakdown of how they
spend $23,000 per year in the city of Lincoln. Sasse said they could
bring that back to their next meeting.
Lee also mentioned that the bureau was pleased to have a city
representative as a voting member on their board, and they had also
thought that they should have monthly meetings with a core group
that included the city. She finished by telling the group that the
tourism board wanted to have open communication with the council and
hoped that would be made possible.
After they were finished, Chuck Conzo, city treasurer, commented
that in addition to what is measured through the hotel-motel tax,
there are unrecognized revenues coming to Lincoln through the sales
tax. He said he felt there was a lot of money coming into Lincoln
through day visitors who were not measured by overnight stays.
He also said the presentation given by Lee and Sasse offered him
information that he had not previously known.
When Lee and Sasse were finished, the council moved on to talking
about budget matters but returned to the topic of tourism later in
When the topic was reintroduced, David Wilmert was the first to
speak, saying he didn't think the city should make any changes this
fiscal year. He said the city should give tourism a year and see
what happens. He said they made a nice presentation and that he knew
more now than he had before. He also noted that the city now has
good representation on the tourism board and that is a good thing.
Snyder commented that the tourism bureau has been represented by
the executive director, who had given regular reports to the city,
but in Snyder's four years in office, this type of information had
not been presented to the council.
City administrator Sue McLaughlin also noted that some of the
information provided was inaccurate. She said tourism didn't have to
be certified, that there were still grants that could be obtained.
She added the city could still participate in the state tourism
Tom O'Donohue said he thought that it boiled down to: "What are
our expectations of the tourism bureau? If the expectations are such
that we don't think they can meet them, then yes, we ought to take
the money. But if the expectations are such that they can make, then
it pains me to say it, but I think we ought to do what we said we'd
do and give them a chance."
McLaughlin also pointed out that comments made about the $200
expenditure of an overnight guest were inaccurate. She said the true
figure was $175 for overnight stays and $50 for a day visit. She
said those figures came directly from the state.
She also commented on where the priorities lie for the bureau. "I
think it is a little telling when they only spend $2,500 on sports
projects and $5,000 on preservation projects, when actually you're
generating more than three times as much on sports events," she
McLaughlin added that an important aspect of this was whether or
not the city would be able to help the bureau change their focus.
She concluded: "I'm not saying eliminate it; I'm saying change their
direction a little bit."
O'Donohue said he thought that was a big part of it, that the
council needed to have more say in how the money is spent. He added
that maybe a single vote on the tourism board was enough to help
with that redirection, but the council needed to decide that.
Melody Anderson said she felt the same. She mentioned previous
years when similar discussions had come up over Main Street Lincoln
and the development partnership CEDS money.
She said: "I don't like the idea of pulling the rug out from
underneath without any forewarning or expectation. The way I look at
tourism is they really haven't had any guidance up to this point, so
it is partially our fault as well as theirs. I would be more
inclined to stick with the Dec. 1 deadline and see if they can
provide us with some forward movement on our expectations. But, I
think we have to make those expectations clear to them, not just
them coming and providing us with an informational PowerPoint. I'd
like to see effort made to get some of these organizations together
to bring in more sporting events."
Marty Neitzel said: "The way I look at it, they have everything
in place, and I agree they need guidance. I would hate to think that
we would just pull the rug out from under them. First of all, we'd
lose every volunteer there is. Let's give them guidance and
communicate. This whole town needs to communicate."
Wilmert also added that in regard to the work on the smartphone
applications, that would actually help measure numbers. He didn't
believe that December would give the bureau enough time to get
everything in place. He said he'd rather wait and do it at the
beginning of the next fiscal year, which would be May 1, 2014. He
added that he felt anything the city takes on should be done at the
beginning of its fiscal year.
Snyder commented that the Dec. 1 date was based on the beginning
of the fiscal year for the county. The county now controls the
hotel-motel tax funds, and a portion of this change would include
the city taking that funding from the county.
Kathy Horn also commented that the bureau now has a city
watchdog. She said O'Donohue was on the board and had a vote. But,
Snyder said that hasn't actually been approved yet by the county
board. The tourism bureau has written a voting member into their
bylaws, but the county will have to approve those bylaws before it
becomes actual fact.
Snyder commented that he thought the suggestion of setting their
expectations was a good one. He said the bureau deserved to know
that, and then figure out whether or not they were capable of
meeting those expectations.
In the end, the council agreed on establishing a committee
specifically for the tourism bureau to help establish city
expectations of the bureau.
[By NILA SMITH]