Fox Cities tourism spending dropped 35% in 2020, now looking ahead

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 5:00 PM CDT
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FOX CITIES, Wis. (WBAY) - The Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau had a record setting year in 2019 with more than $500 million in tourism spending. But 2020 erased that growth, and now the organization is looking ahead.

“In an area like the Fox Cities, you don’t always thing of us as a tourism destination, but there are millions of dollars spent here by tourists,” said Executive Director Pam Seidl.

Like everywhere else during the pandemic, that spending dropped significantly in 2020.

The Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau saw visitor spending at $333 million in 2020 compared to $511 million in 2019, a decrease of 35 percent. That brought spending down to levels that haven’t been seen since 2011.

“This is ten years of spending growth just gone in one year and I think it does show the power of tourism in our economy and those losses and what they mean for our community,” said Seidl.

Visitor spending is tracked under lodging, food and beverage, retail, recreation, and local transportation. The impact study for the Fox Cities Visitors Bureau shows lodging experienced the most significant loss, down 57 percent from 2019. Recreation and food and beverage both followed with decreases of 35 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Seidl notes the loss of the area’s large, mass-gathering type events certainly hurt. But she suspects that area’s biggest impact has been in the lack of business travel.

“That was our typical visitor from Sunday through Thursday,” said Seidl. “When the businesses stopped traveling that was really noticed and it was not only noticed by the hotels but by the restaurants, a lot of those folks dine out or they go for a business dinner.”

Though the business travel and bigger conventions may take longer to come back, in the short term Seidl is glad to see things like the Performing Arts Center, sports tournaments, and concerts beginning to return.

“It helps to build the consumer confidence both locally and traveler. When things start to happen again, there’s that message that it’s okay to come out and attend these events,” said Seidl. “All of our businesses and attractions here have done such a great job of implementing safety protocols and following the latest CDC guidelines.”

Though Seidl believes full recovery will likely take several years, work toward that goal is now gaining momentum.

“We’re seeing some great things already,” said Seidl. “We’ve had a couple hotels sold out over the last couple weekends for the different sporting events we’ve had in the community and we’re just looking forward to continuing to grow on that as we move into summer.”

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