After coping with floods and a pandemic, Grafton hopes tourism returns to river town this spring


GRAFTON, Ill. – Along the Great River Road near Grafton, Illinois, things are looking up as the little river town is seeing signs of their resiliency as a reason to celebrate.

“This is a national scenic byway and really open places to experience that outdoor lifestyle is that’s what you’re looking for,” said Cory Jobe, President & CEO of Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau. “Grafton has been hit pretty hard the past two years but I can tell you the business community is ready and resilient for a busy summer. We see the travel season peaking back to 2019 levels by late July or early August.”

When the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic hit the world in 2020, it crushed the tourism industry globally. But business is starting to open back up like the Grafton Ferry set for April 30. Thinking locally and using the time when they were closed due to COVID, this business is thinking outside the box to bring customers into the treetops.

“This was our banquet and conference facility and a lot of weddings and corporate events,” said JD Lorton, director of operations for Aeries Resort. “We had to cancel over $600,000 worth of business last year. So, we still do some weddings but the weddings of the 300 or 400 range aren’t going to be here. So, we came in here and did a remodel and turned it into an entertainment complex.”

The 95-foot-long treetop bar at Aeries Resort offering plenty of Covid friendly spacing options.

There’s an economic uptick that’s got the Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau excited about 2021.

Hotel room occupancy rates were above 50% for the six Southwestern Illinois counties of the Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau.

“We’re a regional tourism bureau six counties, Alton, Grafton, Collinsville, Jersey County, and all of Madison County,” Jobe said. “So, we’re seeing a steady increase and we’ve finally gone over that 50% threshold in room occupancy rates so that’s a good sign. Also, the Spirit of Peoria paddlewheel tourist boat is back in July, we’re seeing a lot of demand for those tickets.”

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