WASHINGTON COUNTY – The Wisconsin Department of Tourism released 2021 tourism economic impact data showing Washington County generated $252 million in total business sales, an 18.7% increase from 2020 to 2021.
“It’s a big number because, of course, we’re coming out of a pandemic and tourism was one of the industries that struggled in 2020,” Visit Washington County Executive Director Elaine Motl said. .
Statewide, tourists spent nearly $13 billion as the state recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wisconsin State Journal reported on Wednesday that the study commissioned by the State Tourism Department of Tourism Economics found that tourism spending jumped 31.1% from 2020.
According to Department of Tourism data, Washington County also saw a 32.9% increase in direct visitor spending ($97.3 million to $129.3 million), an increase of 10.3% tourism-related jobs (from 2,023 to 2,232) and a 21.5% increase in local and sales tax revenues ($11.7 million to $14.2 million).
Motl added that while figures for total activity, tourism-related employment, direct visitor spending and state and local tax revenue were up, they still have not rebounded to pre-existing levels. the 2019 pandemic.
But, Motl said it expects this upward trend to continue in 2022.
“I think it’s going to increase again for 2022,” Motl said. “Even though gas prices are higher, through our advertising efforts, we market drive-in traffic. That way it’s a situation where someone can come and be here within a day’s drive, stay overnight, and get to our attractions.
Motl said those efforts have worked very well so far this year, as hotels are busier and attractions are busier than in 2021.
Drive-by tourist areas targeting Visit Washington County include the northern suburbs of Chicago, the Madison area, the La Crosse area, and Dubuque, Iowa. Motl added that the group also targets day trippers in surrounding counties.
Visit Washington County also changed its marketing strategy, which helped increase tourist flow to the county in 2021 and 2022, Motl said.
“We’ve updated our marketing from just using photos to creating videos of the area,” Motl said. “So we made videos of all the different municipalities…and we promoted outdoor activities.”
Motl said they took advantage of the large park systems in the county and promoted the different summer and winter activities that take place in the parks.
“I think it worked. I think people have always come,” Motl said. “They brought their bikes, they brought their hiking boots, they brought their cross-country skis and came out into the great outdoors, which we have a lot to offer.”
Another reason Motl is optimistic about increased tourist numbers in Washington County in 2022 is the new interactive Visit Washington County website coming in August.
“We’ll be promoting this to get people to the website so they can watch all the different attractions and create itineraries,” Motl said. “In advance, they can look up an itinerary on the website and say, ‘Oh, I’m going here, here, and here for that day. Sounds interesting. So that takes some of the effort out of what they have to do by presenting different route ideas.
While Motl is excited about the changes Visit Washington County has made to its marketing strategies and what all of this could mean for the county in the future, she still wants the people who live here to enjoy what the county has to offer.
“I think people who live in Washington County don’t know what a great industry tourism is, because we, Visit Washington County, are in the business of advertising outside of the region. So you don’t hear a lot about us, you don’t see what we’re doing,” Motl said. “But, I always encourage people to be a tourist in their own backyard, because we have so much to offer.