Attendance at Festival of Lights is spiking thanks to reality show competition and COVID

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EAST PEORIA (WEEK) – East Peoria’s Festival of Lights was featured on the ABC show ‘The Great Christmas Light Fight’ and won the top prize. Festival of Lights director Doug McCarty said Tuesday that competition along with COVID has created a bump in attendance at the ‘Winter Wonderland’ this year.

How much of a bump? About a 40% increase in attendance. McCarty said their slowest days are on Monday and their busiest days are on Saturday. A typical Monday in the past brings in about 500 vehicles through the socially distant drive-through experience. In 2020, that number has jumped to 800.

The last three Saturday’s they’ve seen 1,600 vehicles come through. McCarty said since 2013 prior to this year they have seen one day with that many vehicles.

On average, from 2019 to 2020 during the same time period through the Monday before Christmas, McCarty said the average daily attendance is up from 650 to 1000.

At $10 a per passenger vehicle and $30 per bus, well thats a big difference in revenue. “We understand that people are looking for something to do. This is the ultimate social distance when you’re in your and with your family. So we expected numbers to be higher but they’ve been a little higher than we projected,” explained McCarty.

After winning the ‘Great Christmas Light Fight,’ even the locals who see the lights every year are coming back for more, including Carrie Bradford who’s daughter was Festival of Lights Queen in 2003. “I gotta admit, it brought tears to my eyes when we won it,” she said.

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This year, like every year, McCarty said he’s seen lots of out of state license plates coming through to see the lights. But several this year have been new. Vermont, Colorado and Washington, to name a few.

Larry and Kathy Awbrey came to Central Illinois all the way from Longview, Texas. Although, they may not have come just to see the lights.

“We came up here to spend the week with the grandkids for Christmas, and they said we gotta go see the festival of lights,” explained Larry.

Organizers said next year will be “Bigger and Better,” but wouldn’t give any hints as to what changes they would make. But McCarty did say if the crowds keep coming they’ll be staying open later this year, at least through New Year’s weekend and possibly after.

The Festival of Lights is located a short drive up Springfield Road to 123 Par 3 Lane in East Peoria. They are open from 5-10 nightly and 5-11 on weekends.


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