Fond du Lac County tourism spending most improved in state

For the second year running, Fond du Lac County has had higher increases in tourism spending than any other county in Wisconsin.

The county saw $141.1 million in direct visitor spending in 2016, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism — up nearly 7 percent from 2015.

And overall tourism spending in the county has grown 36.2 percent since 2011, according to the Fond du Lac Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Craig Molitor, president and CEO of the bureau, gives credit to local businesses, saying “we are proud of how they all work together to draw tourists to the Fond du Lac area.”

“Their efforts are definitely paying off,” he said.

The Wisconsin Department of Tourism is also playing a role in drawing more tourism revenue to the state, awarding $1.1 million in 2016 alone to support 57 “Joint Effort Marketing” projects. The Department estimates these campaigns will eventually drive over $35 million in extra tourism expenditures.

“Ready, Set, Go” sports marketing grants given out in 2016 are expected to add $7.9 million to that number, while the department estimates its 2016 “Meetings Mean Business” grants will boost it by $5.1 million.

For Fond du Lac County, tourism spending resulted in $17.8 million in state and local taxes in 2016. And the tourism industry remains one of the county’s top employers, according to the bureau.

“Tourism plays a significant role here, supporting thousands of jobs and industries, as well as generating local revenue,” Molitor said.

Several other counties had solid spending increases for 2016: Forest County with 6.59 percent; Columbia County with 5.89 percent; Chippewa County with 6 percent; and Rock County with 6.64 percent. And only 16 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had decreased tourism spending for 2016.

The statewide picture of tourism spending last year was also positive, according to analysis by Philadelphia-based Tourism Economics, part of Oxford Economics — a company started in 1981 in partnership with Oxford University’s business college.

Visitor spending grew by $390 million in 2016, reaching $12.3 billion. Revenue from total business sales related to tourism was close to $20 billion.

And the number of state visitors grew to 107.7 million — an increase of 2.4 million over 2015.

–By Alex Moe