Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Regional Tourism Office Closes

The Associated Press by way of the Southern Illinoisan is reporting that the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office has laid off its executive director Russell Ward due to financial problems caused by the state's deteriorating fiscal condition.

Unlike local tourism and convention bureaus funded primarily through a local bed taxes, the regional tourism development offices are funding almost entirely through a state grant. Late payments over the last few years has caused the office to repeatedly borrow funds from local banks to make payroll at the start of the each fiscal year.

That in itself has become a problem because the state has ruled the tourism offices can't use state funds to make interest payments to the bank. Without a source of revenue to make such payments, the amount has simply been recycled through the bank accounts year after year.

The regional tourism office represents 22 counties in Southern Illinois. It's mission is unknown, or at least, disputed, depending on the source, especially in its relationship with the local bureaus and counties that don't have bureaus.

For the last few years the office's chief success has been maintaining the regional tourism website at (and previously also at, and the annual regional tourism guide. When I was there we also assisted local tourism developers on their projects.

In its decade or so existence, the office has had five permanent and at least three or four interim executive directors, mostly due to the funding issue and the lack of clear mission - whether it should truly serve all 22 counties, or just those without certified tourism bureaus.

I only met my successor at SITDO once in person and a few other times by phone or e-mail. I wish him well in his future endeavors.

SITDO took the place of the former membership-based Southern Illinois Tourism Council which in turn grew out of the old Region 9 Tourism Council that existed back in the 1960s.

The move to lay off its staff comes after layoffs in the state's tourism information centers along the interstates.

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