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Domestic travelers brought in $326.5 million to the Oak Park area economy in 2003, according to a study conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA).

The study, commissioned by the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (OPACVB), covers Forest Park and 19 other communities adjacent to it, including Bellwood, Berkeley, Berwyn, Broadview, Brookfield, Cicero, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, Oak Park, River Forest, River Grove, Riverside, Schiller Park, Stone Park and Westchester.

The domestic travel industry, the study reports, generated 4,500 jobs for the area and $35 million in local and state tax
revenue.

Only domestic travelers who stayed in the area, paying overnight accommodations and who conducted day trips of 50 miles or more each way from home were included in the study.

The visitors spent the most money at eating and drinking establishments, generating more than $136 million within that area, the study reports. This represents 42 percent of the travelers’ spending.

Village Administrator Michael Sturino said Forest Park, and its businesses on Madison Street in particular, have all participated in this success.

“Those businesses are more of an area destination than a local one,” he said. “I would say yes, our businesses are bringing in more [domestic tourism dollars.]”

Mayor Anthony Calderone added that it did not surprise him that most of the money travelers spent went to these industries.

“If you think about tourism travel, when you are traveling, most of your disposable income is either going towards housing or eating,” he said. “There is no question, that for any of the restaurant establishments in Forest Park, a lot of their trade comes from outside of Forest Park. I would be even more confident that a lot of [this positive revenue] has been impacted by the work the convention bureau does to attract those that may be coming directly into the city of Chicago, [attempting to attract them] to come out and explore the Oak Park area, which includes Forest Park.”

Also noteworthy were the lodging and shopping industries, where travelers spent $60 million and $37 million, respectively.

Entertainment and recreation expenses represented $34 million or 10 percent of their expenditures.

According to the report, food service also supported the largest amount of travel-generated jobs, with 2,700 attributed to the travelers. This represents $37 million in travel-generated payroll.

On average, the report states, every dollar the travelers spent generates 24 cents in wage and salary for area residents.

For local government, the travelers produced $12 million, or 34 percent of all taxes raised. For the state, they generated $23 million or 66 percent of taxes raised.

“Domestic travel-generated tax revenue is a significant economic benefit, as governments use these funds to support the travel infrastructure and help support a variety of public programs,” the report states.

Sturino agreed.

“The sales tax surcharge here is being used to fund infrastructure improvements and it comes, at least in part, from outside sources of money,” he said, adding that he is pleased with the results of the report.

Both men said the village would continue to support the work of the bureau.

“There would be no question that the efforts of the OPACVB is beneficial for our immediate region,” Calderone said. “We receive the benefits of their proactive effort to encourage tourism to come to this part of Illinois. We value our partnership with them and although we don’t have the capacity to measure the results of the work they do for Forest Park, we rely on their data to show us the results. I think the results have been positive each year.”