Wisconsin Tourism Surpasses Pre-Recession Levels

State Received 100M Tourist Visits In 2013, Up 18 Percent From 2010

Above, the Apostle Island ice caves, a major draw for tourists this winter. Photo: N. Faile (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Wisconsin’s tourism economy has rebounded to above the levels before the Great Recession.

The number of visits from tourists who chose Wisconsin as a vacation destination last year reached 100 million, up 4 percent from 2012 and 18 percent from 2010. Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett says that translates into $11 billion in spending at resorts, restaurants, shops, gas stations, and other businesses.

“With Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, 15,000 lakes, rivers and streams, the world’s largest and longest inland chain of lakes,” said KIett. “The list goes on and on for what we offer.”

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One possible reason for the bump is advertisements that feature celebrities like Kareem Abul-Jabbar and the crew from the comedy “Airplane!” complete with old jokes.

Klett says the ads have gotten free publicity with coverage in Time Magazine and the Huffington Post. But she says that the real draw is Wisconsin’s natural resources; she points to the 130,000 people who visited the Apostle Islands ice caves this winter as an example.

“Here’s what I love: Those visitors had an experience,” said Klett. “They had to walk a mile, and it’s winding and it’s cold but then you see those spectacular ice formations. Literally, people were in a long line. It was just this steady stream that looked like a pilgrimage.”

Klett says the state had 100 million visits last year, which sustained 185,000 jobs – one in every 13 jobs in Wisconsin linked to tourism.