Shawnee Hills Wine Trail receives state recognition

Responding to the pandemic

The 2021 Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel & Tourism kicked off Monday, Dec. 6, at Navy Pier in Chicago with an awards ceremony honoring tourism leaders’ contribution to the industry including special recognition for how communities responded throughout the pandemic.

This year, the new Silver Lining Stories initiative awards tourism attractions and business owners who rallied to support their communities and innovated under extremely challenging circumstances as they navigated the pandemic. 

Honorees were selected by their industry peers who voted via the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism Facebook page.

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois, including Union County, received Silver Lining Stories recognition. 

“I’m committed to making the investments necessary to renew our tourism industry and the communities it supports. We’ve deployed over $1 billion in relief to over ten thousand Illinois businesses in hundreds of cities and towns throughout our state,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a news release. 

“We’ve provided 7,500 hospitality grants totalling $265 million through the Business Interruption Grants and Back to Business Grants. And we’re distributing grants aimed at new and returning festivals and tourism attractions everywhere in our state,” the governor said.

“Congratulations to the small businesses and community groups who were nominated for the Silver Lining Stories. Their stories spotlight the ingenuity, resilience and resourcefulness we saw in the tourism industry and across Illinois as folks pivoted to help each other and be in service to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sylvia I. Garcia, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, DCEO.

Silver Lining Stories categories include:

Best Pivot: Winner, Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, nominated by Southernmost Illinois Tourism, Business or individual that changed their business model during one of the largest economic, human & health pandemics, and innovated as a result.

Best Support for Essential Workers: Winner, Project Front Line, nominated by Visit McHenry County, Organizations, individuals or businesses that stepped up for essential workers and helped make their lives better.

Most Engaged Community Partner: Winner, Vine Street Market, farmers market at O’Fallon Station, nominated by ILLINOISouth Tourism, Individual, business or organization that supported their community in multiple ways over a period of time.

Most Innovative Pandemic Startup: Winner, Takeout 25, nominated by Visit Oak Park, Travel/tourism business that successfully launched during COVID and created a sustainable business.

“Numerous Challenges”

The following message about the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail was posted on social media and shared by state tourism officials:

Formed in 1995, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail has over 25 years of experience sharing their passion for wine with guests. 

While the pandemic created numerous challenges for this organization, their creativity and passion for sharing their hand-crafted wines with visitors would not be dulled.

Early in the pandemic, when businesses were open for curbside service, wineries teamed up for the Grape Escape Wine Sale. 

This allowed customers to order wines from all wineries and pick up at one location.

Guest service is a top priority for wineries. Face to face samplings were not able to be done safely during the pandemic so wineries had to find new ways to showcase their products. 

Wine Tasting Flights were adapted so that guests are still able to savor unique wines from the region. 

Through a partnership with their local alumni association, a virtual tasting was held that showcased wine trail wines to guests from throughout the country from California to Georgia.

Wine & Food Pairing Weekends are a large draw for the trail however, this would encourage large groups, sometimes crowded in a smaller space. 

Adapting to mitigations, wineries operated with outside service and created the Photo Scavenger Hunt. 

This event encouraged guests to visit each winery and safely enjoy outside experiences at each.

A rising tide lifts all boats and these 11 wineries showed Southern Illinois hospitality and cooperation at its finest. 

Working together, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, proved what small businesses are capable of when working together.

Tourism Awards

The Illinois Excellence in Tourism Awards were also presented to celebrate the most innovative tourism marketing initiatives from convention and tourism bureaus throughout the state, prior to the pandemic. 

“It is an incredible honor to be able to recognize our tourism partners across the state who work tirelessly to promote Illinois as a premier tourist destination,” said Karla Flannery, deputy director of the Illinois Office of Tourism.

Travel and tourism professionals from around the country judged submissions in eight categories, ranging from best social media marketing to best event or festival, with one exceptional entry receiving best of show.

This year’s Illinois Excellence in Tourism program and Silver Lining Stories are presented by the Illinois Office of Tourism. 

The Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel & Tourism took place in Chicago Dec. 6-8 at the Sable Hotel at Navy Pier. 

The conference brought together state leaders, travel experts and special guests to share the latest innovative ideas for promoting travel.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Tourism manages industry efforts that result in sustainable and significant economic and quality-of-life benefits for Illinois residents.

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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