Wisconsin tourism industry shows signs of recovery

Packed grandstands along the 18th fairway.

Wisconsin’s tourism industry recently hit a milestone in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, monthly tourism spending 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, and it was one of 13 states nationwide to post positive growth over 2019, according to data from the United States Travel Association.

In a news release Thursday, the state Department of Tourism noted that while September is just a snapshot of one month and this year’s total likely won’t reach pre-pandemic levels, increased spending is another indicator of a steady recovery.

“We expect to see more bumps in the long road to recovery, but we are on the right path and we want to celebrate this moment for the tourism industry workers whose livelihoods depend on this rebound,” said Tourism secretary-designee Anne Sayers in a news release Thursday.

Sayers said meetings and conventions have been slow to return, but the resurgence of leisure travelers, especially those in drive-to markets, are making up for it.

September saw a resurgence of large-scale events in Wisconsin, most notably the Ryder Cup, which brought tens of thousands of national and international visitors to Sheboygan County. The return of Summerfest in Milwaukee, despite its smaller crowds, also helped. It was held in a new three-weekend format in September, having been postposed from its usual June/July dates.

“The tourism industry is an essential part of our state and our economy,” said said Gov. Tony Evers in the release. “We’ve put more than $200 million in federal recovery funds toward helping our tourism and hospitality industries get through this pandemic and bounce back, and I’m proud of our work to help support our economic recovery.”

In 2019, 113 million visitor trips in Wisconsin generated an estimated $13.7 billion. Direct visitor spending in the greater Milwaukee area totaled $3.3 billion. In 2020, tourism spending dropped 22% in Wisconsin and 37% in the greater Milwaukee area compared to 2019. 

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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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