McHenry County chambers hope strong tourism season ahead

Gasoline prices are on the rise in northern Illinois, like they normally are as summer months approach, and McHenry County business leaders are hopeful that is indicative of a strong tourism season ahead after fuel costs fell last year when COVID-19 cut demand at the pump worldwide.

Business organizations throughout the state are expressing optimism that a surge in road trips is imminent as vaccinations against the virus ramp up across the country and restrictions on gathering ease.

“People are going to want to get out on the road. Everyone has been home. People postponed their vacations last year. Hopefully, they have some money they put aside that they can go do their travel,” said Crystal Musgrove, executive director of the Harvard Chamber of Commerce. “Businesses like Harvard’s, we’re trying to make up a whole lost year in a year. Once everything starts opening, you don’t want to be the last one to do those things, the last one to take a vacation.”

“I definitely think the more vaccine you get into people’s arms, the more comfortable they’re going to be traveling,” Illinois Fuel and Retail Association CEO Josh Sharpe said. “Driving is going to be the preferred method because people feel it’s safer. They want to continue to social distance. They don’t want to cram into an airport. It will be a really big summer driving season, I think. Maybe not as big as 2018 or 2019, but still a good one.”

“I’m sure people will definitely be on the road a lot more than they were last year. We’re hoping everyone gets vaccinated, and we’re able to get out and about a lot more,” said Larry Cornett, executive director of the Huntley Area Chamber of Commerce. “Some states are still having movement [with COVID-19 cases] that we don’t like, so we really have to be careful still.”

Hesitancy to take longer trips because of gas prices or other reasons also may give McHenry County businesses a boost this summer because the area is close to the metro areas of Chicago, Rockford and Milwaukee, said Jaki Berggren, executive director of Visit McHenry County.

“Sometimes that benefits McHenry County because Chicago is a one-tank trip. You feel like you’ve gone somewhere when you come to McHenry County. A lot of people are looking for things to do outdoors because of COVID-19. It could actually be a place people consider coming because of that,” Berggren said.

She added the area’s accessibility via commuter trains also gives people a transit alternative.

“We need to see what the consumer will do when school gets out, and if they will travel,” said Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.