Saturday, June 15, 2024

Tourism keeps rising in Wisconsin. In places big and small

One thing that Wisconsin has had an impressive increase in for the 2020s has been tourism. And this week we found out that this continued with a record-breaking year in 2023.
Wisconsin’s tourism industry had a record-breaking $25 billion in economic impact in 2023, according to a new report from the state Department of Tourism.

It’s the second year in a row Wisconsin broke that record. In 2022, Wisconsin’s tourism industry had an economic impact of $23.7 billion, breaking the prior milestone of $22.2 billion in 2019.

The report found Wisconsin also hit a high in the number of overnight visitors, with nearly 46 million people staying overnight across the state last year.

“We’re becoming a little less of a hidden gem and just simply a gem. And as Wisconsin gets added to more and more people’s bucket lists, we really benefit from that exposure,” said Craig Trost, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

The report said the tourism industry supported more than 178,000 jobs last year. All 72 Wisconsin counties experienced an increase in economic impact.
Great to hear, let's dig into the full report to see what more we can find.

While the state had a 5.4% increase in economic impact from tourism, 3 counties had jumps of more than 10% - Monroe County (11.2%), Menominee County (10.3%) and Green Lake County (10.1%). However, Menominee and Green Lake Counties are smaller and less reliant on tourism (even those the locals probably appreciate the added business), so those 2 increases impacts totalled less than $7 million of the total increase of $1.273 billion in added impact statewide.

But Monroe County is among the 44 counties that had a tourism-related impact of more than $100 million for 2023, and when you look at those more tourism-reliant places, it's double-digit increase outpaces 2nd-place Dane County (up 8.4%), as well as the other large counties with the biggest rate of increase in tourism dollars from last year.

But Monroe County's $165 million in tourism impact is dwarfed by the biggest attractors of tourism-related economic activity in the state. As it's been for a long while, the state's 2 most-populous counties also have the largest tourism industries in the state, accounting for nearly 27% of that $25 billion impact. For the rest of the 8 counties with the largest tourism impacts in Wisconsin, it's a split evenly between smaller-population places that are heavy on tourism (Sauk, Walworth, and Door Counties), and the counties that rank 3, 4, and 6 for population in the state.

Good thing the Milwaukee area is now starting to get some of those tourism-related revenues back in the form of higher sales taxes this year. You know, like how communities around the Dells and Door County have for several years. Maybe we can get a similar deal here in Dane County instead of being faced with referenda just to keep local services at the same levels.

It also illustrates how we have essentially two types of tourism markets in the state. One is largely rural and based on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that Wisconsin carries with it, and the other is an urban-based one based on big events, conventions and amenities that little communities don't have the ability to provide (and certainly not at the scale that a place like Milwaukee, Madison, or Green Bay can give.

The tourism figures for Wisconsin are very good news, and it tells us that we need to keep on investing in the types of resources and events that keep people wanting to visit Wisconsin....and maybe encourage a few of them of them to stay here permanently.

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