Wisconsin officials promote tourism as industry loses millions of dollars amid pandemic

Posted at 10:25 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 23:25:45-04

MILWAUKEE — New data from Visit Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism shows the greater Milwaukee area lost hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020.

Officials say 2019 was a record-breaking year, totaling $5.9 billion in total business sales in Milwaukee, Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties. In 2020, data shows that figure dropped by more than 25 percent, to $4.395 billion.

In Milwaukee County, visitor spending fell more than 39 percent to $1.33 billion, and jobs dropped 28 percent to just under 24,000.

Local businesses are hoping this summer will recover some of what they lost in 2020.

Saz's Hospitality Group has a hand in several big Milwaukee summer events: Summerfest, the State Fair and Brewers games.

"For us, live events is really in our heart. Since 1976 we've been doing Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair," said Curt Kluth.

Last summer was especially tough, but businesses pivoted. Saz's provided meals for frontline workers and offered traveling fish fries.

"With the news of State Fair last week, it was great, we were all virtually high-fiving each other," Kluth said. "And Summerfest in September, we are looking forward to being down on the lakefront again."

Gov. Tony Evers stopped in Door County on Wednesday afternoon to encourage people to support tourism in Wisconsin.

"They’ve been knocked down, but they're standing back up, they’re resilient, they're looking forward to the summer," Evers said.

He said people can safely be tourists in the state, especially if they are vaccinated.

"At the end of the day, I think we will come close to the 70 percent that everybody's looking at, but we have to do this for our state, to kind of bounce back," Evers said.

Officials at Visit Milwaukee say they were expecting the data from 2020 to be rough, but they believe local consumers really made a difference.

"Milwaukee did show up for its community to buy gift cards, to buy virtual museum experiences, to do fundraisers for arts venues, and I think that did help mitigate some of the losses," said communications director Claire Koenig.

"It's really warm to feel everyone back out there, and there’s a sense of light at the end of the tunnel, and everyone is being safe, and so many folks are getting vaccinated, which we are so happy about," Kluth said. "Just coming back together and remembering how great the city is, really."

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