Wisconsin Tourism Generates $21.6B

Milwaukee County Tourism Leads The Way With 26 Percent Of Spending

Historic Third Ward River Walk in Milwaukee
Historic Third Ward River Walk in Milwaukee, Wis. Jim Bauer (CC BY-ND)

Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary celebration and the Milwaukee Brewers playoff run helped Wisconsin’s tourism industry generate $21.6 billion last year, state officials announced Monday.

Total business sales in Wisconsin increased 4.68 percent, according to estimates from The Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin, an annual tourism impact study commissioned by the state and conducted by Tourism Economics and released by Travel Wisconsin in early May to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week.

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Direct visitor spending in Wisconsin is also up about 4.9 percent, to $13.3 billion in 2018.

The Greater Milwaukee area accounted for 26 percent of the total tourism economic impact to the state.

“People love Milwaukee,” said Paul Upchurch, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee. “With articles like the one in Vogue Magazine calling us the coolest destination in the Midwest, word is getting out.”

In Milwaukee, direct visitor spending increased by $115 million to surpass $2.1 billion in 2018 — an increase of nearly $10 million per month.

Visitor spending growth accelerated to 5.8 percent, from 3.1 percent in 2017. Spending growth was led by increases in retail and recreational spending, while spending on lodging reached $385 million, increasing 4.9 percent.

Statewide, direct visitor spending increased 4.86 percent.

A handful of Wisconsin counties experienced double-digit increases in visitor spending in 2018 including Adams, Bayfield, Richland Clark, Grant and Kewaunee counties.

“These numbers indicate continued strong growth for tourism throughout the region,” Upchurch said, adding that he expects 2020 to be a record year for the Milwaukee region.

Milwaukee will host the Democratic National Convention in July 2020. The 2020 Ryder Cup will be at Whistling Straits in Kohler Sept. 22 to 27.

“We’re very optimistic 2020 could be a record setter,” Upchurch said. “People will be very curious about the city that is hosting the DNC and I expect 2020 to be a good year all the way around.”

Gov. Tony Evers is touring the state this week to announce the tourism numbers. He will be in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

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