In July, 2020, Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney published a series of articles, rallying support for funding and policy to help the struggling and hard-hit tourism economy as it faced severe losses and devastations due to COVID-19. This was the first article in that series.
The tourism industry in Wisconsin has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. While individuals, businesses and communities have experienced rockier terrain than we wished or planned for, we are now tasked with shaking off the worst and planning for smoother trails ahead.
In April 2020, the Wisconsin State Legislature passed a bill and Governor Tony Evers signed into law Act 185, which addressed several issues surrounding COVID-19. The law required, “No later than June 30, 2020, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation shall submit to the legislature… and to the governor, a report that includes a plan for providing support to the major industries in this state that have been adversely affected by the COVID−19 public health emergency, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, forest products, construction, retail, and services.”
My colleagues at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation delivered their plan to the Legislature and the Governor. That plan can be found here. It is important to note that many stakeholders advised that assessments of the pandemic's economic consequences continue to evolve – as must any plans for a full economic recovery.
While it would be impossible to fully incorporate more than 100 outreach touch points and hundreds of hours of research, discussions, and survey results into 700 words in a report, I believe this plan puts forth important conclusions for our economy and our state tourism industry. Namely, the plan encompasses recommendations to help tourism regain our prominent economic footing throughout Wisconsin. Those suggestions include:
Sustain state tourism marketing funding to drive economic recovery efforts and supplement losses from statewide DMO funding sources such as room tax, meetings & conventions, events and festivals.
Make permanent the Office of Outdoor Recreation to continue to bolster business and jobs growth, support healthy community development, and promote economically vital outdoor tourism statewide.
Invest in the Wisconsin Arts Board and its work to support the creative industries and develop Wisconsin's creative economy.
Ensure broadband access for businesses, residents and visitors alike, to ensure information access and commercial viability for communities across the state.
Expand and innovate tourism grants and provide access to low interest or interest free forgivable loans, encouraging industry innovation to improve on seasonal job fluctuation and build more sustainable year-round offerings.
Provide funding support to tourism-reliant businesses for personal protective equipment.
There is much work ahead, and the recovery effort will require all of us to dig deep as we seek new levels of collaboration, innovation, and perseverance as we imagine our future success. Each of these recommendations will require resources, support and action by many to ensure the recovery we hope for ahead. Wisconsin tourism's resilience and mettle will bolster us as we work together to rebuild and rebound.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu
While the path ahead may seem daunting, the goal is clear: we must rebuild our industry to be stronger and more resilient, knowing that this isn't the first and won't be the last challenge to tourism's endurance. With this in mind, I ask of you: what are you willing and able to do to support this recovery? The six recommendations above may offer some inspiration to take specific actions in support of the industry's recovery; I welcome your support and look forward to sharing a bright future ahead of us.