Sheboygan visitors spent record $207 million in 2014
Not only did every county in Wisconsin report a jump in visitor spending last year, but Sheboygan county had record levels of tourism spending.
Travelers statewide contributed $18.5 billion to Wisconsin's economy last year, up 5.5 percent from the year before, according to a state tourism report. Visitor growth topped 102 million in 2014, an increase of 7 million visitors since 2010.
Sheboygan County recorded $207.8 million in direct visitor spending in the area in 2014, a 4.5 percent improvement on 2013 numbers. Those numbers make it the 15th biggest county for tourism in the state, behind Eau Claire and La Crosse counties.
The state has increased its tourism marketing efforts in the last four years, Gov. Scott Walker said at a morning news conference at the Milwaukee County Zoo in Milwaukee, saying attractions like the zoo impact hundreds of thousands of "family-supporting careers" in the state.
Department of Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett said tourism shouldn't be taken for granted. "It really is an economic powerhouse," Klett said. "It's about jobs, it's about families connecting, it's about adventure, it's about education."
The department cited improvements in the overall economy and moderating gas prices as reasons for the roughly 2 percent growth in both day and overnight visitor volumes. The report also said per-trip spending increased as personal income and consumer confidence strengthened in 2014.
Direct visitor spending on food, lodging, transportation, entertainment and other services accounted for $11.4 billion, up 5.3 percent from 2013, the report said. Lodging was the biggest money-maker in 2014, accounting for 26 percent of tourists' spending. Food and beverage came in second at 25.4 percent.
Amy Wilson, planning and tourism director with the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce, said while the growth in those areas was consistent with statewide trends, Wilson said Sheboygan itself probably draws a lot more spending on recreation because of its strong lakefront emphasis.
Wilson also said that Sheboygan experienced an especially strong "shoulder season" — which basically covers the time from mid-October to April when tourism is usually down. Wilson noted that room tax collections in the fourth quarter of 2014 were up 15 percent, something she said was partially attributable to more travel by tourists and a greater emphasis on marketing the area for those months.
"If you see one of billboards around that time of year, you might be drawn to the website and notice it's a great getaway destination," Wilson said. "It's also a really good time to get hotel rates."
While they're happy with the numbers, Wilson said, she believes actual tourism spending in the county was larger than what was reported in the study, because some hotels did not report their data to the company collecting those details. She said that became apparent when they compared the data they received on room tax revenue to the numbers reported locally.
Jackson County, in west-central Wisconsin, saw the state's largest percentage increase in visitor spending at 11.8 percent. That number jumped from $32.2 million in 2013 to $36.1 million last year.
Chris Hardie, executive director of the Black River Falls Chamber of Commerce, attributed the increase to additional construction and industrial projects for nearby fracking sand mines and natural gas pipelines.
"That has certainly brought in a lot of people," Hardie said. A warmer and less rainy summer also meant more visitors came to hike, canoe and camp, he said.
Dane, Milwaukee, Sauk, Waukesha and Brown counties saw the highest direct visitor spending.
The hotel sector overall saw room demand increase 3.5 percent from 2013, pushing up average room rates by 3.7 percent. The report also said tourism supported about 187,650 Wisconsin jobs last year, or 7.9 percent of the state's employment. And the state and local tax revenue generated by visitors tallied $1.4 billion.
Most tourists in Wisconsin were from the U.S., according to the report, as only 5.7 percent of visitors came to Wisconsin from other countries.
The report also said a TV advertising campaign in March that featured Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan has been viewed online more than 526,000 times, a record for the department.