David Giuliani: Stronger together, weaker alone

September 30, 2018

Rock Falls in northwestern Illinois has a website that aims to bring tourists to town. Rock Falls is right next to a bigger city, Sterling; and 10 miles away from Ronald Reagan’s hometown, Dixon.

While Rock Falls’ website mentions sites in neighboring towns, its focus is on itself.

That fact might seem logical, given lodger taxes generated from Rock Falls motels pay for the tourism office that manages the website. Practically all the motels in Rock Falls and Sterling are in Rock Falls, so Sterling cannot even afford a tourism office.

Looking at the big picture, though, Rock Falls is hurting itself. If it joined forces with Sterling and Dixon, its tourism efforts would be more effective. Together, they could bill their region as the Sauk Valley and tout all their strengths.

Around here, we have the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau, consisting of members Kankakee County, Bradley, Bourbonnais, Kankakee, Manteno and Momence. Its job is to attract tourists.

Of the $685,885 generated locally for the bureau through the 5 percent, Kankakee-County-imposed motel tax, $408,534 comes through lodging within Bradley’s village limits, according to the bureau.

Not a surprise, given most of the lodging options are in Bradley.

But for at least one Bradley trustee, this money might be cause for the village to leave the bureau.

At this week’s Bradley Village Board meeting, trustee Mike Watson suggested starting a discussion on possibly separating from the bureau because of all the money Bradley generates. He said he would like to see a review of how the money is spent and how Bradley could spend it on tourism efforts.

“I’m not sure we are getting the lion’s share of the advertisement and promotion,” Watson said.

Watson wondered whether Bradley could use the motel tax money to promote the village exclusively as opposed to using it countywide.

“Could Bradley do better on its own? You can’t be afraid to have the discussion. I’m pro-Bradley. Period,” he said

If Watson is pro-Bradley, then he should want to stay put with the bureau. Just because Bradley provides most of the money does not mean the lion’s share of the advertising should promote Bradley-specific sites.

Kankakee River State Park, for example, is not inside Bradley limits, but it most certainly benefits the village. And the same goes for the Chicago Bears training camp in Bourbonnais. A lot of fans stay in Bradley hotels and patronize restaurants and other businesses.

I called Watson about his statements at the village board meeting. He said he understood the potential benefits of uniting tourism efforts. But he said he wanted the bureau to be more open with how it spends its money.

“I don’t know how much authority we have or how much input we have,” Watson said.

Staci Wilken, the bureau’s executive director, told me the bureau is transparent with its information.

“Kankakee County is building a brand. If we break off by individual communities, we wouldn’t have as big of an impact,” Wilken said. “We’re not just marketing to tourists, we’re marketing to everyone, including businesses. I think everyone is better when they work together.”

Instead of picking up its marbles and going home, Bradley should stay in the game. Everyone loses if Bradley leaves, including the village itself.

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