Tourism spending rises in Wisconsin

Tourism spending in Wisconsin rose 5 percent in 2012, but the news is even better for the Madison area.
Direct tourism spending in Dane County rose 8.7 percent to $971 million compared with $893 million in direct spending in 2011. The numbers were released Friday by the state Department of Tourism and are the result of an annual study by Longwoods International that also measures tourism's impact on total business sales, employment and taxes.

Direct spending on tourism statewide was $10.4 billion with an economic impact of $16.8 billion. Tourism accounted for 183,786 jobs, an increase of 1.4 percent, and $4.5 billion in income, a rise of 3.4 percent, according to the report.

'We're really pleased that they're headed in the right direction,' Stephanie Klett, state tourism secretary, said of the overall numbers. 'It lets us know that the brand and theme of fun is really working. People are responding so well to it.'

But it's not just fun that is drawing visitors to the state.

In Dane County, a wide swath of professional events, conferences and conventions helped bring visitors here and account for $1.7 billion in overall economic impact, a 7.5 percent increase over 2011.

Deb Archer, president of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, said her organization tracks room tax revenue throughout the year and wasn't surprised at the growth. Dane County ranks second in tourism spending among the state's 72 counties.

'I think that's why sometimes our visitor numbers are really not akin to other destinations in Wisconsin,' Archer said. 'So many destinations in Wisconsin are leisure-based and we are really more scientific-, engineer-, business-based. Not that leisure (tourists) don't enjoy coming here and we don't promote it, but we have really unique niches.'

Epic Systems Corp.'s user group meeting was up 30 percent last year, accounting for thousands of room stays, and World Dairy Expo had record attendance. Archer said when she joined the GMCVB in 1995, tourism spending was about half of what it is today. More hotels, events and the construction of facilities like Monona Terrace and Overture Center have helped increase the draw.

In Sauk County, home to many of the attractions of the Wisconsin Dells area and where fun is a requisite, spending was up 5.9 percent to $857 million.

In a separate study for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau conducted by Tourism Economics, direct spending for the Wisconsin Dells area was $927 million, an increase of nearly 6 percent when compared to 2011. The economic impact of tourism for the area grew 5.9 percent to $1.2 billion while employment grew 1.7 percent to 15,298 jobs.

Recreational spending statewide was up 7 percent while a 2.7 percent daily rate increase in lodging helped grow hotel room revenue by 4.6 percent statewide, Longwoods reported.

There also was good news for northern Wisconsin destinations. Vilas County, home to classic North Woods getaways like Eagle River, Minocqua and Boulder Junction, experienced a 10.3 percent increase in spending to $195 million.

Unlike last year, when the 2011 report showed drops in spending in other key tourism counties like Bayfield, Sawyer and Onieda counties, only four counties (Wood, Chippewa, Adams and Manitowoc) reported direct spending decreases in 2012.

Door County, which had only a slight increase in direct spending in 2011 of 1.6 percent, rebounded with an increase of 6.6 percent at $455 million, ranking it seventh overall, according to the report.

Weather also played a role. This year, much of northern Wisconsin remains shrouded in snow and many lakes have full or partial ice cover. The spring of 2012 offered warm temperatures beginning in March and dry conditions for much of the summer.

'Hotel occupancy was way up. Our spring travelers came out in force,' Klett said. 'That dry summer, we do think of our farmers and worry for them, but for tourism, it was really good news.'

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