• Sara Meaney

Tourism's upstream paddle

Updated: May 7, 2021

On April 8, 2020, as Wisconsin Tourism Secretary, Sara Meaney published this article, calling for immediate action in support of the statewide tourism industry, hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The tourism industry is hurting. Recently, the US Travel Association crystallized the scale of the impact we are seeing with new economic impact data. This research shows America’s economy is projected to lose 5.9 million tourism jobs by the end of April and a GDP impact of $502 million in 2020. In Wisconsin, total weekly travel spending plummeted 80% year-over-year in the last week of March alone. We continue to see COVID-19 hurt the tourism industry while we all practice what we know to be life-saving measures by staying safer at home.


There is simply no doubt that this is a difficult time. To help us recover faster, it’s important to implement data-driven strategies. That’s why we will continue to share information with our industry partners to help make sense of all of this. Have you visited our industry tourism page for helpful resources yet? I pay just as much attention to the COVID-19 curve as I do the data and charts generated by Longwoods International (weekly traveler sentiment) and Arrivalist (daily travel index) to stay on top of the fast moving impact COVID-19 is having upon tourism. As the COVID-19 curve changes, so too will traveler sentiment and that is where we can find hope through all this.


Meanwhile, our industry continues to plan to lead Wisconsin’s economic rebound and there is still reason for optimism. Tourism is a major source of statewide revenue; in 2018, the state tourism industry drove $21.6 billion in economic impact, sustaining 199,073 jobs. And after achieving Wisconsin Tourism's largest year on record in 2019, the industry and our many partners continue to prepare for some of the biggest events our state has ever hosted. Recently the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) pumped the brakes, announcing July’s Milwaukee convention will now be held the week of August 17. Postponement of this historic event, rather than cancellation, is good news. The convention is estimated to have a $200M economic impact for the state, giving hotels and restaurants and all those whose jobs rely on their successful operation, a critically needed boost. And in other good news, PGA of America confirmed earlier this week that the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Kohler will remain as scheduled, September 25 – 27. We continue to urge all meetings and conventions to postpone, rather than cancel their plans in Wisconsin. However, the future of mass gatherings is in the hands of public health professionals and thus, every single American will determine if they will stay safer at home during this difficult time. Let’s hope people continue to do the right thing, thereby flattening the curve so we can all get back to business.

Every day, Wisconsinites are showing their true colors by lifting each other up and providing support in unique ways. Through #HowWiHelp, we are highlighting people and organizations all over the state who are volunteering, donating blood, food and other essentials, supporting restaurants through curbside pickups, and donating their money and skills in ways we have never seen before. For example, Beth Knapinski from the Fox Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, shot a short video encouraging physical fitness and community engagement through “clean walks” in which you bring a trash bag on your walk to help clean up your neighborhood. And Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus has been filling their “Kindness Cooler” daily with milk and dairy products, free for the community to share with those in need. The Pabst Theater Group in Milwaukee has established an employee relief fund, asking theatergoers to donate in support of more than 200 event staff, ushers, bartenders, and stagehands who are currently unable to work. Their efforts have raised over $70,000, 100% of which goes directly to the staff. Seek out and share your inspirations in the many ways Wisconsinites are lifting up and supporting their communities.

As a state with over 15,000 lakes, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and nearly 50% covered by beautiful forests, we are not yet out of the woods of this public health crisis. We must remain safe at home. Yet we continue our work, providing support to the people and businesses that make our communities exciting and rich with experiences, and we actively seek to inspire dreams of future travel to our beautiful state. And we are prepared - when the time is right - to jump start the economy that is so crucial to sustaining our way of life.

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