Wisconsin tourism impact rose 21% in 2021

But industry still lags behind record-setting 2019

The 43rd Ryder Cup was held at Whistling Straits.

Last updated on June 9th, 2022 at 02:34 pm

Wisconsin’s tourism industry in 2021 generated $20.9 billion in total economic impact, up 21% over 2020, according to data released Wednesday by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

All 72 counties across the state saw double-digit growth in total tourism EI compared to 2020, which was a devastating year for hospitality and tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Milwaukee County, tourism’s economic impact jumped 19.5% over 2020, generating $3.4 billion; direct visitor spending was up 33%, at $1.8 billion.

Statewide, direct visitor spending rose 31%, totaling $12.9 billion. Tourism supported more than 169,700 full and part-time jobs across multiple sectors of the industry, up 7% over 2020. Wisconsin also hosted more than 102.3 million visitor trips, a 12% increase from 2020. Visitors generated $1.4 billion in state and local taxes through tourism spending, according to a news release.

“Wisconsin’s tourism recovery is something to be proud of,” said secretary-designee, Anne Sayers. “These successes are the result of intentional and strategic action by everyone who makes up our industry.”

Pandemic recovery aside, 2021 was a big year specifically for sports tourism in Wisconsin. The return of in-person, large-scale entertainment events nationwide brought some of the most notable spectacles in sports to southeastern Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Bucks’ playoff run to win the NBA Finals last summer brought tens of thousands of fans to watch games from the seats of Fiserv Forum or outside on giant TV screens at the Deer District, generating $57.6 million impact in direct and indirect spending to the Milwaukee-area, according to VISIT Milwaukee.

The Ryder Cup, which took place in September at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan County, drew 45,000 spectators a day to the course as well as 4,000 volunteers from 47 states and 13 countries, and 1,300 temporary employees. As a result, monthly tourism spending across the state in September surpassed that of September 2019, which was the state’s best year on record. With 1% positive growth, Wisconsin was the only state among its Midwest competitors to exceed spending for any month compared to 2019 since the start of the pandemic.

While the latest data shows significant recovery from the pandemic’s devastation, Wisconsin’s tourism industry still lags behind 2019’s record-setting $22.2 billion in total economic impact, with 113 million visitor trips.

The department touted its strategic statewide campaign to support the industry’s rebound, noting that Wisconsin is “well-positioned for continued recovery, as more travelers are opting for road trip vacations closer to home amidst rising gas prices.”

Gov. Tony Evers has allocated $1 billion in federal funds to small businesses and other industries impacted by the pandemic. About $200 million of that was invested in the travel and tourism, hotels and lodging and entertainment industries alone, including more than $70 million for lodging grants, more than $14 million in grants for movie theaters, summer camps and minor league sports teams, more than $27 million in grants that went to 204 event venues and live event small businesses and $15 million for destination marketing organizations.

Evers additionally allocated $21.9 million in grants for the Tourism Capital Investment Grant Program, which assisted 27 local governments and organizations with major tourism-related capital improvement projects across the state that help promote, maintain or bolster Wisconsin’s tourism industry.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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