Illinois tourism had another record year, before coronavirus pandemic

Illinois set another record for tourism before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down normal life around the world, state officials said.

The Illinois Office of Tourism Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced Friday that the state welcomed 120 million visitors in 2019. That was the ninth consecutive year that Illinois saw tourism growth.

Officials noted that COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, has devastated the tourism industry and has shuttered schools, businesses and required people to stay at home for periods.

“Pre-COVID-19, Illinois offered one of the top destinations for travel in the country, supporting thousands of jobs and economic growth for our communities,” said Michael Negron, acting director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which houses the tourism office.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that tourists spent $43.1 billion in Illinois last year. That was a 3% increase over the prior year.

The tourism office said the money directly supported 344,100 jobs, which is up 1,800 from 2018. It generated $2.5 billion in state sales tax revenue. That’s up nearly 8% over a year earlier.

Negron predicted that when the threat from COVID-19 has abated, the 2019 tourism numbers prove Illinois can rebound.