Blackhawk Waterways CVB - Polo, IL

Embracing Digital to Connect with Visitors In Real Life.

pre-roll video used in the NWIllinois IRL campaign

Competing for attention in the Chicago market.

One hundred miles due west of downtown Chicago lie the rolling hills, old growth forests and the pristine rivers of the Blackhawk Waterways in northwest Illinois. With its quaint cabins and darling bed & breakfasts, it’s the perfect weekend getaway in Illinois. Every mile is steeped in history, surrounded by outdoor beauty and dotted with charming villages.

The Blackhawk Waterways is a quick trip to escape the concrete jungle of Chicago and experience a getaway like it used to be.

The economy in Illinois has been volatile in recent years, and as a result, residents have tightened their purse strings when it comes to travel. This makes it difficult for off-the-beaten-path destinations to thrive when they don’t carry the brand equity of an established destination.

How can small towns that don’t have world-class attractions, notable geographic landmarks, or that aren’t on a major travel route compete in today’s extremely competitive travel world? 

Pivot to Digital

To meet this challenge head-on, we needed to go all-in with digital. In 2017, we helped the Blackhawk Waterways CVB shift the majority of ad buys away from traditional print media to digital channels targeting the Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas.

We created three seasonal flights with buys in display, video pre-roll, search engine marketing, and social media, all driving traffic to an award-winning, highly-engaging, and intuitive website. We tied these buys to our InRealLife campaign, enticing travelers to seek an authentic and personal getaway experience – a getaway that’s less than a three-hour drive.

For-Real Results

Over the course of the 2019 fiscal year, we generated more than 106,000 website sessions and 185,000 page views, a 200% and 300% increase respectively. More than 68% of our traffic came via mobile devices, underlining the importance of mobile-first visitor behavior strategies. In addition, visitors have made the tourism industry a major force in the economy of Northwest Illinois, generating nearly $183 million dollars in local impact. The total lodging tax for the four-county region was $820,808, representing an 8.7% increase over the previous year and a massive 23% increase since 2016.

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