Small businesses benefit directly from tourism

The Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), an organization with more than 700 members – mostly small businesses – works to increase the economic impact tourism contributes to the greater Milwaukee area. As the president of the organization charged with marketing and promoting Milwaukee as a premier convention and visitor destination, I want to use this column to update you on our efforts in bringing conventions and visitors to the area.

In 2003, tourism pumped $2.4 billion in direct travel expenditures into the four-county metro area (Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties).

The elusive recovery the travel industry has sought now appears to be gathering momentum nationally, and travelers are feeling more positive about attending out-of-town conferences and taking pleasure trips.

However, there are many cities to visit or hold meetings in. So what will give Milwaukee a competitive edge going forward?

For starters, Milwaukee has invested $1.5 billion into its tourism and convention product since 1998 and an additional $1 billion is earmarked over the next few years for such projects as Pier Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Public Market in the Historic Third Ward in the near term. Meanwhile, the Harley-Davidson Museum, Pabst City, the Park East development and the Bayshore Mall redevelopment are a few years out.

No other city of comparable size can lay claim to this kind of investment. That $2.5 billion is an impressive number, and one in which the GMCVB plans to aggressively use as we market the area and work to change perceptions people have about Milwaukee.

Summer in Milwaukee is typically strong from a tourism standpoint. Summerfest, the State Fair and all the other lakefront and downtown area festivals bring in large crowds. The one-of-a-kind Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors through its run on Aug. 8.

And the new Lake Express ferry will be shuttling hundreds of newfound visitors a day from Michigan over to Milwaukee to experience our many attractions.

This month, Milwaukee will play host to the following conventions that will collectively bring in about 13,600 people and pump approximately $13.4 million into the local economy.

* National Association of College & University Business Officers, July 17-20

* Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, July 24-28

* Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, July 29-Aug. 1

In addition, the final four rounds of the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, held at Brown Deer Park Golf Course from July 19-25, will be nationally televised on the USA Network and CBS, showcasing our city to millions of nationwide viewers.

No question, marketing Milwaukee has its challenges. But money spent on greater Milwaukee tourism is an investment in this region’s future. As the economy improves and with our continuing investments in tourism attractions, our position to win over visitors to come and experience Milwaukee against other urban destinations in the country will become stronger.

Doug Neilson is president and chief executive officer for the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau. More information about tourism in Milwaukee is available at

July 9, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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