Milwaukee is not considered a major tourism destination for many Americans. But VISIT Milwaukee and a few local tour guides are working hard to improve the image of the city as a visitor’s destination, and they have started working with local companies to custom design tours of the city for their clients, business partners and potential employees from out of town.
“It isn’t even always that Milwaukee has a bad image outside of Wisconsin, it’s just usually that Milwaukee has no image at all. They don’t know what to expect from us,” said Wendy Dobrzynski, group tour manager at VISIT Milwaukee. “I can’t tell you how many times people have made it here only to say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful city.’ Companies and residents realize that guests will enjoy it once they are able to see it first hand.”
The city speaks for itself once people get through the front door, Dobrzynski says. Guests to the city come to realize that Milwaukee isn’t just about beer, brats and the days of Laverne and Shirley, she said.
“Compared to other metropolitan areas, Milwaukee is a very clean city,” she said. “Companies can feel good about the fact that people are comfortable visiting here and that they have this type of city to show off. We’ve got a lot to showcase.”
Kay Collins is the president and owner of KBC Tour Company in Wauwatosa. While corporate events is a smaller portion of her business than leisure travel tours, she has worked with companies like Rockwell Automation, Kohl’s Corp., Peck & Associates, Bon-Ton Stores Inc., and Concordia University to showcase parts of the city for company guests.
“Milwaukee is a great place to live work and play,” Collins said. “A lot of companies want to showcase that for recruits or summer interns, even new employees. It’s a great way to show off a lot of different parts of Milwaukee and all there is to do here.”
Collins also does a lot of tours for international business people coming into town.
“I think it’s really important for them to see what is going on in the city,” she said. “Companies want their international clients and partners to realize why they are located here and why this is where they want to be. I think tours help open their eyes a little bit to what’s around them as opposed to being in a meeting room.”
KBC Tour Company can customize tours based on the number of people, interests and the length of time, Collins said. She can work directly with a company to determine what exactly the group members are most interested in seeing.
“Everything I do is basically customized depending on what the groups are looking for,” Collins said. “I have a basic route that includes a lot of Milwaukee’s landmarks including the Lakefront and the Brise Soleil at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but I can also do customized brewery tours or tours of Milwaukee neighborhoods and other sites.”
KBC Tour Company entered its fifth year in business in 2012.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in the amount of international travelers coming to Milwaukee,” Collins said. “As soon as more people and companies start to realize this service is available, I think more and more of them will choose to do these types of events. There’s a lot happening in the city now. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case. I think people are really proud of what’s going on here, how beautiful our city can be and the revitalization efforts taking place in our neighborhoods. They are proud of it and they want more than ever to show it off.”