Drawing more than a hundred million visitors last year, Wisconsin’s tourism sector is growing drastically.
Tourism in the state is up $700 million from 2012 to 2013, totaling $17.5 billion dollars, $2.35 billion of which went to local, state and federal taxes, saving average households approximately $590 each, according to a report released by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
Ranging from fishing and hunting to water parks and roller coasters, Wisconsin’s tourism sector is a critical part of the state’s economy, with one in 13 jobs across the state dependent on hosting visitors, the report said.
“The travel and hospitality industry continues to be an important and strong performing sector for Wisconsin’s economy,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. “Investing in tourism promotion and marketing at the national, state and local level is an effective way to attract visitors and keep the economy growing,” he said.
The DOT credited much of the spike in tourism to its marketing campaigns. The report highlighted the fact that for every $1 the DOT spent on its 2013 summer and fall advertising campaigns, $6 went back to state and local governments in incremental tax revenue.
One of the big marketing campaigns the DOT has planned for this summer includes a commercial with “Airplane!” stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Hays satirically highlighting Wisconsin’s central attractions. Abdul-Jabbar ends the commercial by making a joke about his time playing for the Milwaukee Bucks saying, “I can’t believe I ever left this place.”
The report also said tourism activity continues to show stable, long-term growth in recent years. This is in part due to Wisconsinites themselves, who make up 51 percent of people who vacation in Wisconsin.
“The past three years have been outstanding for Wisconsin’s tourism industry,” Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett said in the statement. “The increased investment in tourism marketing has allowed us to expand our advertising campaigns and leverage celebrities with Wisconsin ties; bring in the nation’s top travel writers to experience our destinations; tap into international markets; and attract lucrative sporting events, meetings and conventions.”
The growing interest of Wisconsin residents in exploring their state can be somewhat attributed to TV programs such as “Discover Wisconsin,” a show that highlights the state’s various vacation destinations.
The show’s marketing strategist and co-host Mariah Haberman expressed her enthusiasm about the growth in tourism.
“A huge part of our tourism is from Wisconsinites. I think it’s cool that many people want to get out and vacation in their own state,” Haberman said. “We want to highlight destinations in the state that many Wisconsin natives haven’t seen before.”
She also said food-related shows tend to have the highest viewers, especially shows highlighting dairy and cheese.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said Wisconsin’s city centers in particular have drawn large numbers of visitors in recent years.
“Since my career began, the state has seen quite a bit of growth in urban areas like Madison and Milwaukee,” Risser said. “It used to be a market that was dominated mainly by northern Wisconsin. Dane County especially has been doing a bang up job in the tourism industry.”
Dane County drew a 7.6 percent increase in visitor spending between the two years, totaling more than $1 billion dollars in 2013.
As summer approaches, the DOT is gearing up for its coming tourism campaign, set to kick off the week of May 12. The campaign will seek to attract travelers from around Wisconsin as well as northern Illinois, the Twin Cities and Eastern Iowa in particular.
Nyal Mueenuddin contributed reporting to this article.