ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Around this time last year, the Rockford Park District had already hosted multiple sports tournaments, but the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a significant drop in tourism.
“One of the greatest disservices is, that we could do to ourselves as a community, as a region, as a state, is to open too quickly and not follow science and data from our public officials and our health officials,” said John Groh, of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB).
The RACVB hosted a webinar with local leaders on Thursday to discuss ways to revitalize the economy.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said, “Tourism accounts for $392 million of economic impact. Pretty selfishly, in the city, that means it accounts for $6.8 million in local taxes, paid by folks who don’t live here, which is the types of taxes we actually do like.”
One of the biggest draws for out-of-town guests to Rockford is the park district’s facilities.
“We are known across the country because of tournaments and events we have on a regular basis, starting in April, middle of March, until the winter time, when we go back inside,” said Louis Maateus, general manager of Mercyhealth Sports Core.
The Rockford Park District is having daily discussions for plans they can put in place, in order to be able to host events safely, including postponing games to a later date and limiting the number of people participating.
“At this point, I’m preparing for the worst case scenario,” said Mateus. “That means…we won’t have any games at all, but we think it’s on a smaller scale we’ll do some stuff.”
Before that can happen, city leaders need to make sure travelers feel safe in Rockford.
Don Welsh, of Destination Travel, said, “Travel will return, but it’s going to come back when people really feel as though, from the medical and scientific community, that they feel like it’s right for them and their family. I don’t think it’s going to be hurried in the process.”
The RACVB will continue hosting webinars to discuss ways in which to move forward.