Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled a glitzy $30 million tourism campaign Monday as part of Illinois’ efforts to bounce back after a huge drop in visitor revenue during the worst of the pandemic.
“Whether you’re a Land of Lincoln lifer looking to explore your own state or an out-of-town visitor who is curious about this state — that is the soul of our nation — Illinois is here to show you the best that we have to offer,” Pritzker said, speaking at the Shedd Aquarium, which, before the pandemic, drew about 2 million visitors annually.
The new campaign, with the slogan “The Middle of Everything,” features actor Jane Lynch, who both directed and has a starring role in the TV ads. Lynch, who grew up in south suburban Dolton, has played many roles including a gym teacher on “Glee” as well as host of the NBC shows “Hollywood Game Night” and “The Weakest Link.”
Beginning this week, the ads will run in eight states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Kentucky. Beginning April 25, the ads will also appear nationally on cable TV.
Though the ads are heavy on Chicago attractions, they also feature the Shawnee National Forest, Route 66 locations, and a host of state parks.
Before the pandemic, Illinois had seen a steady increase in visitor spending — up a total of 12% between 2016 and 2019, according to the governor’s office. Between 2019 and 2020, spending dropped 49%. Figures were not available for 2021.
The governor’s office said the campaign is a “critical next step” in the recovery of the state’s tourism and hospitality industry, which, before the pandemic, employed about 600,000 people statewide,
Pritzker brushed aside concerns about the uptick in violence in Chicago, particularly downtown.
“We show off what’s great about the city of Chicago, and you are seeing Jane Lynch do that in these ads,” Pritzker said. “We overcome the challenges — every day we work to overcome the challenges that we have for the city of Chicago as well as the entire state.”