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Trumble: Wisconsin tourism rebounding from 2009, but business travel still slow

Wisconsin tourism is on a pace this year to grow roughly 7 percent over 2009, but still won’t be back to 2008 levels until next year.

That’s the word from Kelli Trumble, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, who calls the “uptick” in travel in the Badger State a positive trend.

She said it is unrealistic to think that tourists will spend the $13.1 billion they paid out in 2008 to boat, fish, ski, attend conventions, visit water parks and historical sites this year.

“But everyone is very optimistic ... even though there is restrained spending,” she said. “We are confident that we will see more growth in 2011. This is a modest recovery and we are finding that consumer confidence is in a much different place than it was last year."

Trumble said getting leisure travelers to return to their old ways is less daunting than convincing businesses to spend again on conventions and meetings, the hospitality areas that showed the greatest decline in 2009.

“For 2011, we will have some additional initiatives for those segments,” she said. “They are in the early conceptual stages right now.”

Trumble said travelers spent $12 billion in 2009, down by 7.8 percent overall. Still, that was better than the national tourism spending dropoff of 9 percent.

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“People will find a way to travel that is within their budget,” she said. “This is actually a terrific time to travel because there are so many tremendous packages and deals available.”

She said tourists are booking closer to travel dates, staying closer to home, taking shorter trips and spending less so they can stretch their travel budgets as much as possible.

“Because of our Midwest location, wholesome activities, good value and genuine hospitality, our state is in a good place and in good stead throughout this economic downturn,” she said.

Trumble said most Badger State vacationers are Wisconsin natives, followed by Chicagoland and Twin Cities’ residents.

“Generally, we are hearing that that things are busy,” she said. “No question that people are traveling, but where there may be hesitation to spend is in the retail sector. The exception is in outlet malls, which reflects the desire to stretch dollars.”

Trumble said she was pleased that attendance at Milwaukee’s Summerfest was up 2.5 percent this year and that Door County and the Wisconsin Dells are reporting strong business. She also noted that Lake Geneva was full for the July 4 weekend.

One soft spot, however, is La Crosse, where she said travel business is flat compared to last year.

Trumble said summer travel spending is important to Wisconsin because tourists fork over nearly 40 percent of their travel dollars from June through August.

The tourism secretary said her department is constantly looking for new ways to market Wisconsin’s travel industry to stay on top of trends and the changes in tourism patterns.

“For that reason and knowing travelers are searching for value, we developed a package in the deals section on Travel Wisconsin website,” she said. “Since its launch in May, it has stayed in the top 10 pages viewed.

“And because we know how consumers are using internet, social media and smart phones, we will launch a new iPhone application next month. Earlier this year, we launched both Facebook and Twitter [accounts], both of which have been popular venues to have a two-way dialogue with our consumers.”

Trumble said she also wants to make sure that her agency does not lose revenue.

“We need to protect funding to ensure that we have an ongoing voice in the market so we can inspire people to want the Wisconsin travel experience,” she said. “They way we extend that invitation is through marketing.”

She said the budget for fiscal 2011, which began July 1 and runs through June 30 of next year, is $12.97 million. Of that, the promotional budget is $9.3 million. By contrast, the fiscal year 2009 budget was $15.15 million, with $10.97 going for marketing.

For the long-term, she said the Wisconsin tourism industry is looking at other states and their public-private partnerships to come up with sustainable funding.

“For the short-term, we need to protect what we have,” she said. “But for the long-term, we need to move forward with a more pro-active approach.”

-- By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com


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