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Tourism and hospitality beginning to bounce back, but staffing remains an issue

PACVB president and CEO JD Dalfonso speaks at a March 2020 press conference at the Peoria Civic Center.
Tim Shelley / WCBU

Local tourism and activities are starting to bounce back in earnest as the country trudges through its second year in the COVID-19 pandemic. But staffing isn't keeping pace with burgeoning demand.

Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO JD Dalfonso said that gap has led to things like restaurants turning away customers on busy nights, or venues forced to strike contractual agreements with third parties to get up to adequate staffing levels to put on events.

"It's good to have that demand. It's unfortunate that we don't have the help to execute some of these events to what we knew prior to the pandemic," he said.

Dalfonso said hotel occupancy rates remain lower than communities like Rockford or Champaign, because Peoria doesn't pick up as much transient traffic.

"The blessing for us is that, okay, our occupancies are low, but it highlights over this time of recovery, nobody's just looking to pass through Peoria," he said.

Much of the Peoria area's hotel occupancy stems from conventions. Dalfonso said that was the first industry to bottom out with the advent of the pandemic, and will be one of the last to come back. But contracts are slowly trickling back in, he said, noting more convention contracts were signed in 2021's first quarter than in 2019.

On the tourism front, Dalfonso said Peoria is considered more of a leisure market. That means people coming to the area to enjoy things like park trails and other outdoor activities, primarily. But another part of the overall market strategy is not only bringing new people in, but getting those already here more involved.

"We keep residents in mind a lot. And particularly now we put on more focus of what can you do here in our own backyard? Because there's a lot of great things to do," noting the Discover Peoria website is built out with a more robust calendar of events and activities than available in the past.

"When we talk about the recovery here, our residents here want to get out in a safe manner, and experience everything that our region has to offer," he said. "And so being able to go to that calendar events on DiscoverPeoria.com and really find out what's going on. We are really trying to push that."

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.