Stop the Presses and Accentuate the Positive

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

There’s no doubt about it. Milwaukee is a city on the move with a lot to boast about.
The Santiago Calatrava-designed addition to The Milwaukee Art Museum has become a Milwaukee signature, a bold, progressive icon that Smithsonian magazine named one of "Seven Special Places to Visit This Summer."
Our superb visual arts institutions and quarterly gallery nights are among the reasons Milwaukee earned a well-deserved ranking as one of the top 25 Arts Destinations in AmericanStyle magazine’s annual reader poll this year.
The United Performing Arts Fund recently reported its most successful fundraising year to date, a testament to the strong community support of our thriving performing arts scene, one that is undeniably rich and diverse for a city of our size.
In July, Milwaukee played host to the first-ever Nissan XTERRA Midwest Championship. This prestigious race brought elite amateur and professional athletes from around the world to Veterans Park for a two-day competition that included swimming, biking and running. Nissan XTERRA organizers cited the outstanding quality of our Milwaukee County Parks as the deciding factor in selecting Milwaukee over several other midwestern locations that were up for consideration.
Milwaukee is a dynamic city in which to live, work, play and visit. Part of that revitalization is due to the more than $1.5 billion in tourism-related investment since 1998, with another $1 billion to come over the next three years. There are far more things to see and do here, more dining and cultural options than there were a decade ago. We’re experiencing one of the strongest summers for convention business that Milwaukee has ever seen.
We’ve evolved to become a desirable destination for conventions and leisure travelers. Do we have urban challenges? Sure. But if we don’t collectively take pride in our community and adopt a positive mindset, how do we expect to maximize our ability to attract visitors to our city?
While the private and public sector has effectively teamed together to forge that community pride and support our multicultural conventions here in Milwaukee, most notably the NAACP and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, our local news media can also be a partner in spreading the word on the many positive steps we’re taking to make Milwaukee a desirable tourism destination. The fourth estate has an opportunity to positively shape public perceptions and image by the way it chooses to cover the news.
It’s important for us to collectively work together and serve as goodwill ambassadors to the city. With the addition of civic-minded citizens and our news media, we have a very potent team going forward.
For visitors to Milwaukee, their experiences are almost always overwhelmingly positive, and that to us is a significant news story. By all accounts, the community pulled together to hit a home run with the NAACP Convention, with the organization’s chairman Julian Bond citing Milwaukee "right at the top" when asked how Milwaukee ranks as a host city compared with other cities where the convention has been held.
Considering the convention most recently convened in such first-tier cities Houston, Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia, that high praise by Chairman Bond puts us in the major league of convention destinations and should be a source of community pride. The people who attended the convention also universally shared these sentiments.
In June, VISIT Milwaukee had the privilege of hosting travel journalists and other travel professionals at the annual meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) Central States Chapter. SATW is the preeminent association of travel journalists in North America. The last time the group held their event in Milwaukee was 20 years ago. During their stay, they visited our attractions, sampled our restaurants and shopped our retail venues. Surveys collected after the meeting indicated that outsiders often have a different perspective on our community, as evidenced by the following comments from attendees:
"It isn’t often a city you think you know awes you."
"Your city is obviously experiencing a real Renaissance. Milwaukee has some wonderful ‘spaces’ coming over the next few years that will be a great boon to tourism and to the economy."
"I was absolutely ‘bowled over’ by Milwaukee – it was definitely so much more than what I expected."
All of these people left Milwaukee with an indelible impression of a vibrant city that has much to offer, both today and well into the future. Let’s keep the momentum going and worth together to build more locally-generated community pride and positive media coverage.
For that’s an attitude worth cultivating and reporting about.

Doug Neilson is president and chief executive officer of VISIT Milwaukee,
formerly the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau.
He writes this column on the local tourism industry exclusively
for Small Business Times. He can be reached at (414) 287-4233 or

August 5, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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