For 20 years, Darien resident Skip Strittmatter has served as the executive director of the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau. In 1993, its budget was only $50,000 — until Strittmatter took over.
With a budget of $2.2 million, the organization now offers more of an economic boost than many may realize. Strittmatter has much to do with that success.
A native of Essex, Iowa, Strittmatter attended college at the University of North Iowa and earned a degree in psychology and speech therapy. During her college years, she left the institution with more than just a degree.
“My name is Jo Ellen, and there were two of us who lived in the dorm with the same first name,” she said. “One day, a friend of mine decided to call me ‘Skip,’ and the name has stuck ever since. No one calls me Jo Ellen any longer.”
Strittmatter’s career began when she and her husband bought a beer distributorship. But it was her work with a local chamber of commerce that led her to the tourism field.
“I’m the type of person who likes to get highly involved in an area, and when I worked with a chamber of commerce in Iowa to produce their magazine, I fell in love with the hospitality world, and I was eventually asked to work for the Iowa office of tourism,” she said.
Strittmatter later moved south, and for eight years, served as the CEO and president of the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau in Texas. She says she was “recruited” for the job here in DuPage County.
Her job today involves overseeing a staff of 14 people and a variety of activities, which include the marketing operation, writing grants, working with state and local budgets, overseeing 20 to 30 publications, working with sales teams and more.
“Our mission is to promote DuPage County as a destination for business and leisure, and to enhance the economic fiber of the county,” she said. “Today, visitors to DuPage generate $2.2 billion, and we have a total of 22,000 people working here in the county in this industry.”
Strittmatter said that, in addition to the total revenue generated through tourism, an additional $570 million is generated through tax receipts.
“The $2.2 billion is the total expenditure that was generated last year, and we believe that tourism is the fastest way to grow economic development,” Strittmatter said. “Every single household in the state benefits from tourism. If it wasn’t for the revenue generated by the industry throughout the state, each household would be paying about $1,100 in additional taxes.”
Larry Forssberg, executive director of the Westmont Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, says that Strittmatter is a master at “building bridges.”
“Skip loves her work, and it’s her life,” Forssberg said. “She been doing this here for 20 years, and each year, she gets better and better at her job and tourism continues to grow. The passion she has comes through in everything she does, and she has the capacity to see the big picture.
“A lot of her work involves the hotels that are in the area, which obviously compete against each other, but she’s able in spite of that to forge connections and create a team.”
Strittmatter says that the number of hotel rooms in the county numbered just 8,000 when she began and that the number two decades later has reached 17,000. Naperville has fewer rooms than other area municipalities in DuPage County, but she says it remains “a key player” in the tourism field.
“There are larger hotels in other places, and we see them as providing more hospitality for business meetings, but Naperville offers the leisure distinction as the highlight of the tourism product,” she said. “It’s elegant and diversified, and offers some of the ‘high end’ in DuPage County.”
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