Illinois looks to attract international tourists

Caryn Rousseau, Associated Press
Illinois looks to attract international tourists

FILE - In this July 10, 2012 file photo, Abraham Lincoln presenter Fritz Klein joins others in period attire as they learn how to use this "new-fangled" mobile ways to access the events and schedules for History Comes Alive at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill. Illinois wants to attract more international tourists and is harnessing the recent popularity of Abraham Lincoln and social media tools as the state looks to market itself overseas with help from a federally funded travel promotional group. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

CHICAGO (AP) -- Illinois has spent money in the United Kingdom and Germany on ads playing in theaters before the Oscar-winning movie "Lincoln" and partnered with a federally funded travel group that promotes the United States abroad in an effort to attract more international tourists to the state.

Illinois Office of Tourism Director Jen Hoelzle plans to discuss the new ventures during her "State of the State of Tourism" address Thursday at the Governor's Conference on Travel and Tourism. She told The Associated Press in an interview that the agency is looking to get more creative as it works to draw travelers.

Illinois already has started reaching out to international audiences, advertising in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom and in coming months expanding that effort to Japan. Illinois had 1.25 million overseas visitors in 2011, the latest year figures are available. That's up slightly from 1.18 million in 2010 and 1.16 million in 2009.

"That's great, but I think we can do so much better," Hoelzle said. "We are just ripe for overseas visitors. They love these options that are in Chicago, which is our gateway, but also in the state."

The popularity of "Lincoln" — which earned Daniel Day-Lewis his third best actor Oscar on Sunday — has been a boon for the president's home state, and Hoelzle said officials are trying to harness some of Hollywood's shine for the Land of the Lincoln.

One example: the state paid $115,000 for a six-week run of a 30-second commercial for Illinois tourism before the movie "Lincoln" played in theaters in the United Kingdom and Germany. The spot urged potential travelers to "discover Lincoln in the land he called home." When "Lincoln" opened in the United Kingdom, Illinois had a Lincoln impersonator give away movie tickets.

"We know that that international market is interested in us," Hoelzle said. "The opportunity is there, but we just need to get Illinois in front of the international consumer."

Another way the state is trying to do that is through a partnership with Brand USA. The Travel Promotion Act of 2010 started the Corporation for Travel Promotion, which does business as Brand USA. The public-private partnership's goal is to attract international visitors to the United States.

The Illinois Office of Tourism, with a $54 million annual budget, and Brand USA pool marketing money to buy advertisements and other promotions overseas.

"We're able to invest our resources together and in doing so we're able to increase their buying power," Brand USA President and CEO Chris Thompson said.

The state of Illinois has made efforts domestically too. The office bought ad space for its consumer website,, on auto racing star and Roscoe native Danica Patrick's car at last weekend's Daytona 500. The ad deal cost $50,000 and includes a second, later race.

"I hope all those eyes will see and be thinking of the fact that Danica is from Illinois," Hoelzle said. "We've got to be ready to seize opportunity really, really fast."

Among the statistics she is expected to unveil Thursday, Hoelzle said the state is expecting an 8 percent to 9 percent increase in 2012 from the $168 million in hotel and motel taxes collected in 2011. She also said the state's travel websites received 36 percent more inquiries during 2012 than they did during 2011, but she hopes to boost that even more.

"We need to get creative and we need to get more eyes on Illinois outside the drive-in states," Hoelzle said. "How do we get to the fly-ins put more heads in beds for longer periods of time?"


Follow Caryn Rousseau on Twitter at