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Wisconsin communities optimistic summer travel will offset weak winter tourism

Travel sentiment strong ahead of summer season, national survey says

A father and daughter sit on a bench as they eat shaved ice.
Lewis Acevedo and his 7-year-old daughter Shannel eat a snack before watching the fireworks Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

After a warm winter negatively affected tourism during the usually snowy season, Wisconsin communities are optimistic they’ll rebound this summer.

Market research firm Longwoods International’s latest travel sentiment survey, released last month, found early indicators show strong sentiment ahead of the summer season. 

The survey showed 92 percent of Americans plan to travel in the next six months, 30 percent plan to spend more money this summer than last and 56 percent plan to spend about the same amount this summer.

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Those numbers are encouraging to Northwoods tourism groups, who asked the state for assistance this winter because the region lost an estimated $6.5 million in revenue due to a lack of snow in December and January.

In response, Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin helped clarify that Wisconsin businesses impacted by the warm weather were eligible for disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA.

Northwoods businesses on the mend

Krystal Westfahl, president of the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau, said those loans made a big difference for newer businesses in the area.

“The SBA loans really have bridged that gap, I think, for many of our businesses from having this horrible winter,” she said. “They were able to get those low interest, long-term loans, and were able to keep afloat. We didn’t lose any businesses, per se, and that was our biggest concern, or biggest fear, because it was a long way from February to June.”

Now, Westfahl said businesses are feeling better as they head into the summer season. She said the Minocqua area has already seen some early travelers on weekends with the weather getting warmer, and summer reservations for local lodging are filling up fast.

“Resorts are full, the pre-bookings are still full. Hotels are predominantly booked up,” Westfahl said. “It was a little bit slower, I think, this spring with summer bookings. But at this point, we’re fairly packed for the major summer tourism season.”

Governor, tourism secretary promote summer travel in Green Bay

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Evers and state Tourism Secretary Anne Sayers toured the Packers Hall of Fame inside Lambeau Field to promote the tourism industry. 

During the visit, Evers looked at displays showing the evolution of football equipment and tributes to the Packers’ championship teams. The governor also took a pretend phone call at a replica of NFL Hall of Fame head coach Vince Lombardi’s desk.

Gov. Tony Evers looks at a Lombardi Trophy inside a room honoring the Green Bay Packers’ league-leading 13 world championships. Evers visited the Packers Hall of Fame on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, to promote tourism. Joe Schulz/WPR

“I have been a Packer fan as long as I’ve been alive here in the state of Wisconsin, so this is a real treat for me,” Evers said.

Evers said the industry is vital to the state economy. Citing record-breaking 2022 tourism numbers, the governor said the industry supports more than 100,000 jobs and generates roughly $23 billion in economic impact.

In addition to promoting tourism, Evers used the visit to call on the state Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee to release $10 million in budgeted funding that would be used to promote the state as a premiere host and major destination for large-scale events. He called the situation “absolutely ridiculous.”

“It’s not like we’re asking for anything that’s not in the budget,” Evers said. “It passed in a bipartisan way. I signed it, and it’s time for us to get that money and make sure that tourism has the money in order to continue doing a great job.”

Gov. Tony Evers takes a pretend phone call at a replica of Vince Lombardi’s desk inside the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Evers toured the facility on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, to promote Wisconsin tourism. Joe Schulz/WPR

Wisconsin Dells expecting strong summer

The Wisconsin Dells wasn’t as impacted by the mild winter as communities in the northern parts of the state, but several businesses were hurt by the unseasonably warm weather, said Andy Larsen, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau.

“There are some prominent businesses like, for instance, Cascade Mountain and Christmas Mountain, which are both ski facilities that were certainly impacted,” he said. “But there are fewer snow-dependent businesses in Wisconsin Dells than there are in Northwoods communities.”

Heading into the summer, Larsen said the business community in the Dells feels pretty confident. He said the area has been booming since the COVID-19 pandemic began to fade.

“There’s huge demand, so we’re expecting another great year,” he said.

Larsen added that Wisconsin’s access to water, whether lakes or rivers, as well as the hospitality of its residents helps make it a destination for travelers year after year. 

“That’s just part of the Wisconsin DNA. We are good hosts and people have fun,” he said. “They build memories and they ultimately come back.”

A boat tour on the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Dells
A Wisconsin River boat tour in Wisconsin Dells. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau
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