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Tourism chief doesn’t let pandemic stop him from promoting the Peoria area

 J.D. Dalfonso
J.D. Dalfonso from the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Discover Peoria.

Six months after taking over as executive director of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, J.D. Dalfonso watched the central Illinois hospitality industry shut down, just as it did across the country and around the world.

“I leaned on those in my industry and board who have been through tough times before,” said Dalfonso.

“We had to make sure we could sustain this organization for years to come,” he said, noting that the pandemic forced some very difficult decisions “like laying off the staff who, through no fault of their own, had to be furloughed.”

“One thing the pandemic has brought to light is the return on investment that tourism represents. Conventions are the first things out and the last to come back. That’s the largest blow but it puts in perspective how much revenue comes from meetings and conventions and concerts,” he said.

“When you see hotels’ and restaurants’ amusement taxes dropping overnight you quickly see what tourism and destination marketing can bring to the table,” said Dalfonso.

Convention planners are anxious to schedule meetings once again, he said. “People still want to get back in person but some aren’t comfortable with that yet,” said Dalfonso.

As a result, technology will continue to be a factor when it comes to planning meetings, he said.

“Some people won’t have the budget or the desire to meet yet in person. So the IT element—audio and visual—will be a part of what meeting planners will deal with moving forward,” said Dalfonso.

Meetings usually held in larger towns like Indianapolis--once downsized--might allow Peoria to serve as an alternative, he said.

The bureau’s focus in the seven counties served by the PACVB doesn’t just include visitors and conventioneers, said Dalfonso.

“Area residents can regularly be surprised by what we find in our own backyard. That leads to positive conversation and that leads to positive action,” he said.

“We should be proud of our history,” he said, referring to the exploration of the area by French settlers in 1680. “We know that before that indigenous people called central Illinois home centuries before that. The central Illinois river valley has long been a quality place to live."

The historic treasures include everything from a collection of religious relics housed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria to grand homes dating back to the area’s distilling past, he said.

Dalfonso also pointed to the bureau’s support for local business—particularly during the COVID outbreak. “When retail got hit during the pandemic our residents truly stepped up to help small businesses,” he said.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.