Wisconsin’s tourism secretary is hoping for a strong fall and winter to make up for an anticipated multi-billion dollar hit to the state's tourism industry this summer.
Wisconsin Department of Tourism Secretary-designee Sara Meaney was on WISN’s UPFRONT on Sunday. She said the state’s tourism industry has already lost $1.7 billion compared to last year. And she fears the losses will only get worse.
“Right now we are anticipating, based on travel sentiment of consumer travelers, about two-thirds of people are still hesitant to travel or be in public spaces where there may be crowds,” Meaney said.
Meaney added that it is places, or events, or attractions with crowds that have seen the steepest fall off in terms of tourism numbers.
“The great outdoors and Wisconsin have always been a wonderful choice,” Meaney said. “We anticipate an uptake — an uptick in people choosing the great outside choices we have in our state.”
And while that will mean more people visiting lakes or state parks, Meaney said that uptick may not materialize until later in the year.
“While travelers are strongest during tourism season, we also have a strong fall and winter level of activity,” Meaney said. “2019 was Wisconsin tourism’s largest year on record. There was a very strong showing for winter.
“What we hope is to work together with our partners around the state to shift that kind of activity,” Meaney continued. “When experts tell us it is safe to change our travel pattern, we will focus on the areas and time when we can work to draw that rebound in recovery.”
Meaney said the Department of Tourism is listening to the experts, so much so that her office isn’t advertising Wisconsin as open for business, or open for tourists.
“Based on the current situation in Wisconsin. we are in a holding pattern,” Meaney said. “We know the opportunities to create and enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin can still be enjoyed by those of us who are residents within our own community. It is an important message we want people to hear, which is, please, do enjoy the beautiful outdoors of Wisconsin but responsibly and in balance with the risk to our communities.”
Not everyone is hearing that message.
Leaders in Lake Geneva, near the Illinois border, say thousands of people from Illinois flooded into their town over the long holiday weekend. Many of them made the trip because their state is still essentially closed.
There were also large crowds at Milwaukee’s beaches and parks. The Wisconsin Dells last week said it is partially open for the summer.
Meaney’s department says tourism in Wisconsin is a nearly $22 billion-a-year industry that supported or created more than 200,000 jobs across the state last year.