IDNR leader says agency understaffed as more people visit state sites

(The Center Square) – The Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee listened to hours of testimony Thursday on the state of tourism in downstate Illinois.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that tourists spent more than $43 billion in Illinois in 2019.

The state is spending around $15 million in advertising this summer, double the usual amount, to promote destinations across Illinois.

Illinois recently launched a $6 million ad campaign targeting surrounding states to encourage people to take road trips to Illinois travel destinations.

Kristen DiCenso, chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says in 2019, more than 26 million people visited state sites from June through December, and the pandemic did not slow things down.

“For the same time period in 2020, sites saw 28.4 million visitors, so we actually increased our visitors last year,” DiCenso said.

DiCenso told the committee her agency is severely understaffed, affecting the nearly 400 sites statewide.

“It’s very, very difficult to manage,” DiCenso said. “We get a lot of complaints from, not only from the general public but from legislators about staffing at sites. If you want our sites staffed up, please help us.”

Finding available workers is a theme affecting numerous industries, including the downstate tourism industry.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said she knew of a hotel in Mt. Vernon that had to shut down floors because they didn’t have enough people to clean rooms.

Mitchell Bair is the city manager of Collinsville, home to the world’s largest ketchup bottle. He told the committee the labor shortage is a big concern.

“We are going to be driving on the interstate of recovery with the parking brake on, unless we figure out this labor because that is what is going to hold this recovery back,” Bair said.

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