(The Center Square) – In an effort to kick start the tourism industry in Illinois, the state is launching a new ad campaign this week to encourage Illinoisans to hit the road.

The “Time for Me to Drive” campaign is a take-off of the Champaign rock band REO Speedwagon song “Time for Me to Fly.” It is the first tourism campaign since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It comes as the state prepares to enter the Bridge Phase of its reopening plan on Friday. The Bridge Phase will allow for higher capacity limits at places like spectator events, museums, zoos and more.

Sylvia Garcia, director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said the campaign is a critical step forward in bringing visitors back to Illinois communities.

“It is a total of $6 million in media,” Garcia said. “Given the theme of 'Time for Me to Drive,' it is focused on border states and Illinois, so it's playing in 7 states and 18 markets.”

Garcia noted, before the pandemic, Illinois welcomed more than 120 million visitors per year, and they spent more than $40 billion a year in the state.

Jayne DeLuce, chair of the Illinois Council of Convention and Visitor Bureau, said these types of campaigns are a good investment.

“The return on investment for destination promotion drives $11 in tax revenue for every dollar in promotional spend,” DeLuce said. “We do what we do for the faces of the hospitality industry.”

The tourism industry, particularly the hospitality sector, has been crushed by state-imposed restrictions during the pandemic, including gathering limits, since March 2020. Illinois has lost several conventions and major events to neighboring states.

Michael Jacobson, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, said an increase in tourism would boost economic recovery, especially for the state’s hotels.

“We still have 20,000 hotel workers out of work and laid off across the state who are anxious to get back to work,” Jacobson said. “An investment in tourism promotion is an investment in economic development.”

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.