Tourism outlook for 2009 is partly sunny

In many ways, 2008 was a banner year for Milwaukee tourism, and we continue to make significant progress in carving out a fun, positive image for the city to potential visitors.

Some of the notable events this past year that put Milwaukee on the visibility map include:

The new year, thanks largely to the recession we’re mired in, will present challenges as consumers tighten their belts and carefully scrutinize all discretionary expenditures, including travel. However, we feel that Milwaukee, positioned as a value destination, should be able ride out the economic downturn and then be able to capitalize during the recovery.

In short, the Milwaukee area has world-class facilities at affordable pricing and we’re located within an eight-hour drive for one third of the U.S. population. We’re confident post-recession that we’ll emerge as an even stronger destination.

An indicator of the hospitality community’s continuing commitment to Milwaukee, our two largest properties – the Hilton Milwaukee City Center and the Hyatt Regency – are planning multi-million dollar renovations. In addition, the Staybridge Suites is scheduled to open downtown in June. There are a number of other hotel projects planned that we will be watching closely and supporting as appropriate.


Corporate support

Whether it’s a business meeting or a large convention, Milwaukee is a city that is affordable, centrally located and has the variety of amenities that travelers desire. In short, you can get down to business when you meet in Milwaukee. Partnering with local businesses leaders such as Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and Ed Zore and Frank Martire, CEOs respectively of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network and Metavante Corp. we’re aggressively outreaching to the corporate community with two messages: one, bring your meetings and conventions “home” to Milwaukee; and two, leverage your affiliations with professional and charitable organizations and work with Visit Milwaukee to bring those national and regional meetings and conventions to our city. Taking these steps is one easy way to grow our local economy and keep people working.

In addition, working with the business community, Visit Milwaukee will also continue to support the Milwaukee 7 and efforts to make the region a fresh water hub and new programs to support social responsibility and new green environmental initiatives.

Lights, action, camera

The tax credits for qualifying film, television and video gaming projects took affect Jan. 1, 2008, and the new jobs and economic impact and the opportunity to market Milwaukee through the worldwide reach of film were almost immediate thanks to Johnny Depp and the big-budget “Public Enemies.” We expect to see more cameras rolling in the Milwaukee area this year. It is important that Milwaukee’s economy is allowed to take full advantage of the incentives and that lawmakers do not tinker with the incentives (as some have proposed), but rather let them take root so they have an opportunity to grow a creative economy for Wisconsin and the Milwaukee region.


The army continues to grow

The Milwaukee Certified Tourism Ambassador program is a national customer service training program to inspire front-line hospitality employees and volunteers to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience. The program consists of pre-session reading, a half-day class, concluded by an open-book exam. The program has exceeded our expectations and the feedback from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve now graduated almost 600 new ambassadors since the program began in late 2007 and we’re shooting for at least 750 CTAs by the end of 2009. Go to for more information.

Convention center expansion?

A holdover from my tourism outlook column from a year ago is the issue of expanding The Midwest Airlines Center. The center is the smallest convention facility among all the major Midwest cities we compete against. Working with the Wisconsin Center District, we plan to commission a feasibility study this year that will determine if a larger convention center will create greater demand for conventions and in turn, create more jobs and economic impact by bringing more visitors to Milwaukee.

Convening in Milwaukee

Some large high-profile events and conventions will be landing in Milwaukee this year. Here’s a sampling:

  • Lia Sophia Annual Conference, June 25-27, 16,300 room nights.
  • The Northwestern Mutual
  • Financial Network, July 18-22,
  • 12,600 room nights.
  • Milwaukee Rally, Sept. 4-5, 5,000 room nights.
  • National Indian Education Association, Oct. 22-25, 4,700 room nights.
  • National Association of College & University Food Services, July 8-14, 4,000 room nights.
  • Metavante Technologies Inc., May 11-14, 3,250 room nights. 

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