Recessionary diversion: Let’s party!

    One thing about our local tourism and hospitality industry, we’re a resilient bunch. And when I say"bunch," we’re some 65,000 strong in the greater Milwaukee area.

    Instead of taking a defeatist attitude with the current recession, which has seen hotel occupancies dip, we’re looking at new ways to tell the traveling public that Milwaukee is open for business and a great visitor destination.

    We have all the urban amenities without all of the urban hassles and at affordable prices.

    So the Greater Milwaukee Hotel-Motel Association has partnered with many of our lodging partners as well as Potawatomi Bingo Casino, the Wisconsin Center District and VISIT Milwaukee to unveil a new event, Savor Milwaukee – a Culinary Preview of Milwaukee’s Summer Festivals.

    The event will be held Tuesday, May 12, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Pfister Hotel. This inaugural party will feature food and beverage stations hosted by 10 Hotel-Motel Association members. Each of these eight hotels and Potawatomi Bingo Casino and the Wisconsin Center District will "adopt" a different lakefront festival and theme their display and culinary offerings to fit that event.

    A silent auction will also be held with proceeds going toward student scholarships in the hospitality industry.

    We’ve developed this new event to get our community excited about the upcoming festival season and send a strong message that despite the recession, the Milwaukee area is a great and affordable urban getaway. Our lakefront festivals are a jewel associated with Milwaukee, and this event will provide a sneak peak at each and hopefully get everyone stoked about the summer season.

    In addition to the longstanding lakefront festival traditions, a new event, the Visit Milwaukee Air & Water Show also will be represented.

    By way of industry background, the meetings and events segment of our industry (which represents about $100 billion in spending and one million jobs nationwide) has been particularly hard-hit by the recession with an even larger unintended consequence: organizations not receiving government assistance have been canceling meetings concerned about negative publicity fallout.

    According to the U.S. Travel Association, business travel is projected to decline by as much as 5.6 percent in 2009. Most companies are not AIG or receiving funds, and they should be able to continue the sound business practice of attending meetings and events.

    However, on the leisure side, the outlook is more bullish. There has perhaps not been a better environment to travel than now with all segments of the industry, including lodging, offering attractive rates.

    All this brings us back to the Savor Milwaukee event. We’re already being teased with some warmer days. It won’t be long until we plunge into what Milwaukee does probably better than any other city – celebrate summer!

    But before, we head to the lakefront, it’s time to bring the lakefront festivals indoors on May 12. The event will whet your appetite for the sights, sounds and tastes of a summer in Milwaukee. For more information, visit www.visitmilwaukee.org/savormilwaukee.

    Jim Mikolajczak is president of the Greater Milwaukee Hotel-Motel Association and general manager of the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center.

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