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Milwaukee hospitality leaders look for vacations to play a role in the economic rebound

Downtown skyline with Buildings in Milwaukee USA
Posted at 9:46 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 23:23:55-04

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee had big plans for the year when it comes to tourism before the coronavirus pandemic. Now with millions of dollars lost, hospitality leaders are looking ahead for a time when it is safe to reopen, and they can bring visitors back.

"We started this year as the year of Milwaukee. We were going to start off with a bang," said Peggy Williams-Smith, President and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee.

Downtown skyline with Buildings in Milwaukee USA
Downtown skyline with Buildings in Milwaukee at twilight, in Wisconsin USA

Williams-Smith said Milwaukee had months of booked up hotel rooms even before the Democratic National Convention.

"There was a $47 million impact lost in the days following the initial Safer at Home order when these conventions canceled," said Williams-Smith.

That translates into 6,100 canceled hotel rooms in the City of Milwaukee.

Restaurants are in a similar position. The President and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Kristine Hillmer said 136,000 restaurant employees had been laid off in the state. By the end of April, Wisconsin will have lost an estimated $630 million in food and beverage sales.

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File photo

"In Wisconsin, 40% have closed. An additional number are looking at closing. And sales are down 70%," said Hillmer.

Williams-Smith said though it all cannot be made up, the hospitality industry will start to come back as people being to travel again. She anticipates more people will be choosing to do that this year by car.

"Milwaukee is within a 6-hour driving range of one-third of the US population. Which will give us an opportunity to market to people who want to take a vacation," said Williams-Smith.

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(File photo)

As vacations return, so does business travel. That is why Visit Milwaukee is launching its "Bring it Home" campaign. It encourages major businesses to host their meetings and conventions in the city like Northwestern Mutual is planning to do this summer. There is also the Wisconsin State Fairs still scheduled for August along with the Democratic National Convention, and Summerfest is rescheduled for September.

"We think Milwaukee is perfectly primed and positioned to be successful as we come out out this," said Williams-Smith.

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