Rock County continues to see increase in tourism spending
JANESVILLE—A wildly popular country act at the Rock County 4-H Fair combined with other new events to help increase tourism spending in Rock County in 2013.
Travelers spent an estimated $192 million in Rock County in 2013, a nearly 4 percent increase over the previous year, the state reported Friday.
The local increase mirrors a 4 percent gain in tourism spending across the state.
“Janesville's tourism community has grown and strengthened in several areas over the past year,” said Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“New and creative programming by attractions such as the Rock County Historical Society and Janesville Performing Arts Center, paired with strong events including Rotary Botanical Gardens' Holiday Light Show and Irish Fest, grow the economic impact and taxes generated by tourism in our area.”
Rebout said a massive influx of fairgoers to see Florida Georgia Line filled local hotels.
The area also benefited from events such as Freedom Fest, a national water ski show, the Cal Ripken Softball tournament, the Rock Soccer Clash and large meetings involving the Wisconsin Rural Letter Carriers Association and Upper Midwest Recyclers Association.
Rotary Gardens continues to be the top tourist destination in the county. Last year, the gardens attracted more than 100,000 people and created an economic impact of $3.4 million, according to organization officials.
Overall figures released by a consultant to the state Department of Tourism indicate traveler spending supported 3,749 jobs in Rock County in 2013. That generated wage income of more than $81 million.
It also contributed more than $24 million in state and local taxes.
Rebout said Rock County has now posted two years of growth in tourism spending.
One reason, she believes, is a rebounding economy that's boosted corporate and leisure travel, typically discretionary spending that was restricted during the recession.
Another is a more aggressive approach locally to marketing the county and its attractions to bigger and different groups, she said.
“We've become more confident in going after some things that maybe we wouldn't have in the past,” Rebout said, using the world water ski show that returns to Janesville this summer as an example.
“Also, the leadership at our local attractions has been thinking more outside of the box and trying new things, such as the Lincoln Fun Run at the historical society,” she said.
Rebout expects the growth to continue into 2014, as Rock County continues to claw back toward years such as 2008, when visitors spent $238 million in the county.
In addition to routine visitors and events, Janesville this summer will host three large water ski events plus a new concert at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
“We don't do this alone,” she said. “We have an amazing partnership with those in the tourism business and people who are passionate about local events.
“I call in a lot of people for help, and very rarely do I get a 'no.'”
Statewide, tourism had a $17.5 billion impact on the state's economy, up 4 percent from 2012.
“Tourism continues to be one of Wisconsin's most important economic resources and investing in tourism promotion and marketing at both the state and local level is one of the best things a state can do to attract visitors, enhance the state's image and keep the economy growing,” said Stephanie Klett, the department's secretary.