Walworth County business owners, tourism officials gear up for Memorial Day weekend

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Andrea Anderson
Sunday, May 11, 2014

Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff for the Walworth County tourism season, and tourism officials and business owners are excited for the season to begin.

“This is the first big weekend for the area for summer time, and everything after that is just growth,” Kristen Rouse, Walworth County Visitors Bureau director of sales and marketing, said.

Dana Montana, owner of The Dancing Horses Theatre in Delavan said this time of the year is crucial for business.

“It's always Memorial Day to Labor Day that's prime,” Montana said.

For years, Walworth County has been a destination for people from Wisconsin and Illinois to water ski and enjoy the lakes and paths. Gradually, it is becoming a year-round destination for people from across the Midwest, Rouse said.

“The majority are still from Illinois, but we're also seeing people from other states like Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa,” Rouse said.

The county's peak months are December and the summer months, according to Wisconsin Department of Revenue data. Thanks to a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the county is seeing an increase in tourism during the shoulder season, Kathleen Seeberg, executive director of the visitors bureau, said.

In fall 2012, the county received the grant to fund promotion techniques aimed at increasing the tourist economy and attracting people during the winter months.

“People are noticing our area and realizing the great things we have,” Seeberg said. “Not only in the summer time, (but) in winter and fall and spring.”

For the past few years, Rouse has traveled to trade shows across the country to share the county's numerous year-round activities with tour groups like Motor Coach.

Motor Coach tours to the county range from 50-56 people per tour, can be day or overnight trips, and are crucial for businesses, Rouse said.

Spending in the county has grown more than twice as fast as the state of Wisconsin's since 2011, according to a study by Tourism Economics, a Philadelphia-based tourism and analytics company.

Visitor spending is up more than 11 percent from 2011, while Wisconsin's grew about 5 percent in the same time frame.

The county is ranked sixth out of the state's 72 counties for the amount visitors spend in a single year, the study states.

In 2011, visitors spent about $410 million, and about $455 million in 2012.

In 2011, the county had about $1.43 billion in total retail sales revenue, and about $1.49 billion in 2012, according to the Department of Revenue data. The majority of that revenue came from June through December in 2011, June through December and February in 2012.

The revenue for 2013 was about $1.53 billion.

Besides marketing, word of mouth and being out in-person promoting Walworth County, Rouse said spending has gone up because of people's desire to get out and explore.

“A lot has to do with the economy and the fact that now people are kind of sick of waiting for it to get better and they're deciding 'I'm going to spend money and go on vacation,'” Rouse said.

Montana said it has been tough getting ready for the upcoming tourism season because of the weather. She and her workers are prepping for the summer shows. She hopes people will come see the live shows.

She said she hasn't seen an increase in business during the traditionally slower months, and doesn't know why.

“I don't know if it's because of the weather or the economy or time of year,” Montana said.

“It's six months of feast, six months of famine,” she added later.

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