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While People Stay Home Due To Coronavirus, Tourism Shifts Online

Without Traditional Revenue For Months, Some Tourism Businesses Try Alternatives

Empty Adirondack chairs
JoLynneMusings (CC-BY-ND)

Wisconsin tourism officials used to inviting people to visit destinations are adjusting to society by asking them to stay at home.

The new coronavirus pandemic has all but shut down tourism is Wisconsin, one of the state’s biggest industries.

A report done last year showed visitors to Wisconsin spent $13.3 billion in 2018, a $625,000 increase from the previous year. But the worldwide pandemic and subsequent “stay-at-home” orders in Wisconsin and most neighboring states have brought tourism to a halt.

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The travel and tourism industry is very negatively impacted by this virus and the necessary public health safety measures, such as ‘safer-at-home,’ said Wisconsin Department of Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney. “My main concern is that everyone stays healthy. But this will pass, and in the interim, I’m concerned for tourism businesses that are working hard to innovate and adjust to stay afloat until we come out the other side of this.”

Meaney said tourism businesses can look to the U.S. Small Business Administration and the recently approved $2 trillion federal coronavirus aid package for financial help. She also hopes there will be additional financial help for tourism businesses from the state.

Wisconsin tourism officials around the state have no idea what the fiscal impact of stay-at-home orders might be. The U.S. Travel Association estimated in mid-March that, nationally, tourism may take a more than $800 billion hit.

“The current marketing strategy is just to help keep the lights on and keep people employed for the hospitality and restaurant jobs in the area. You’re experiencing a devastating drop in tourism and dollars into those businesses,” said Benny Anderson, acting director of Visit Eau Claire.

“There’s good and bad to being stuck at home. There’s a different appreciation for all of the things in the area that you get to go do on a daily basis,” Anderson said.

Spring and most early summer tourism-related events have already been canceled or postponed until later in the year.

But that hasn’t stopped businesses and organizations that rely on tourism dollars from coming up with innovative ways to attract customers now and in the future.

In the northeastern Wisconsin town of Minoqua special webpages have been created for both tourists and business owners.

The virtual vacation page features live camera views of the area and playlists of natural sounds of the Northwoods and songs from bands who play area venues.

We launched the page three days ago, and we have had around 400 interactions with the page so far,” said Krystal Westphal, executive director of the Let’s Minoqua Visitors Bureau.

Before the stay-at-home order, Tamera Herskovic, owner of the Chocolate Studio, was busy stocking her Spooner business to get ready for the spring and early summer tourist rush in northwestern Wisconsin.

The Chocolate Studio has been in business for less than a year. It’s part yoga studio and part retailer — selling gourmet chocolates and other items. It caters to both locals and tourists.

The Chocolate Studio is a non-essential business and so my doors are closed,” Herskovic said. “The only source of sales that my business is currently bringing in is online classes sprinkled with folks purchasing online gift cards and punch cards for future in-studio classes.”

Since the order, the Chocolate Studio has been offering online video yoga and reiki classes, three in the last three weeks, with as many as 30 participants who pay by donation, which has been more profitable than in-person classes. There are plans for eight more classes, Herskovic said.

She said she is confident her business will survive.

“The only thing I know is it’s going to be different,” Herskovic said. “I know I’ll still be here.”

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