Vaccinations and Vacations: How Door County is winning on both fronts

Posted: 8:56 AM, May 12, 2021
Updated: 2021-05-12 20:18:59-04

Wisconsin is fast approaching the busy Memorial Day to Labor Day tourism season. A multi-billion-dollar industry for the state that took a major hit last year due to the pandemic.

Vaccinations and vacations don't sound like a tourism theme but for one popular destination along Lake Michigan, it's turning out to be a win-win.

Optimism in scenic Door County runs as deep as Lake Michigan.


Goldsmith Kim Pedler owns Peninsula Jeweler in Sturgeon Bay. His business depends on tourists, "They probably account for 70% of my business."

Door County has been the crown jewel when it comes to vaccinations in Wisconsin, thanks to drive-thru COVID=19 vaccine clinics.

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"It's amazing," said Abigail Hocevar, who stopped by to get vaccinated. "You don't have to get out of the car."

70% of Door County residents, who are eligible for the vaccine, have their first shots, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nearly 60% are fully vaccinated, which is more than any other county in the state.

"I attribute it to a couple of things, one, our planning began early," said Dan Kane, Door County's Emergency Management Director. "So, we had plans in place to start messaging right away."

Door County tourism is rebounding

Kane's the first to credit a dedicated team of public health workers and volunteers for the county's success.

Kane says the county tested a drive-thru model for flu shots last fall and it turned out to be the road map for COVID-19 vaccinations. Up to 15,000 shots into arms since January, one car at a time.


"It's just like going to McDonald's. I can be in and out and be done," said Kane. "That was a big success. I think the drive-thru model, in my opinion, is probably not going to go away, whether that's in booster shots or future flu clinics."

27,000 people call Door County home - nearly a third are 65 and older, an age group that has been more determined to get the shot.


But Door County is also home to a $396 million dollar tourism industry. That thought is not lost on the people who live or grew up here. Maren Larsen is getting her second shot.

"I think that people are aware of the hospitality industry, and how everyone makes their bread and butter here," said Larsen.

This year bookings are up 120% compared to this same time last year and up 45% compared to the year before the pandemic, according to Destination Door County.


Back at the Jewelry store - Pedler says 2020 sales were slightly down despite the pandemic. This year he's off to a great start.

"I'm expecting a banner year this year, people are anxious to get out. The comment I hear most is we've been home for 13 months we are ready to go someplace," said Pedler.


Overall, visitor spending in Door County decreased by $70.2 million last year, a nearly 19% drop compared to 2019.

But it's not just Door County that depends on tourism. It's big business for the entire state of Wisconsin. In 2020 it accounted for $9.8 billion in direct visitor spending.

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