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Tourists find escape in Walworth County

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Kayla Bunge
May 31, 2008
— As gas prices flirt with $4 a gallon, the Walworth County tourism industry is poised to reap the benefits.

“People don’t have to drive to Door County. People don’t have to go into the north woods to find peace and relaxation,” said Kathleen Seeberg, executive director of the Walworth County Visitors Bureau. “They can get here in less than a tank of gas.”


Walworth County is at the center of four major metropolitan areas: Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Rockford, Ill.


Because of high gas and food prices, people have less money to spend on travel, so they’re staying close to home, said Kelli Trumble, secretary of the state Department of Tourism.


Although tourist spending in Walworth County dropped in 2007, tourism remains an important industry for the county, according to an annual tourism study released this month.


The county ranked sixth in the state for traveler spending for the fifth year in a row, trailing Milwaukee, Dane, Sauk, Waukesha and Brown counties. Travelers spent $436 million dollars in Walworth County in 2007, down 3.6 percent from 2006.


Travelers statewide spent an estimated $12.78 billion in 2007, down 0.4 percent from 2006.


Lake Geneva has been a popular summer destination for Chicago residents since the late 1800s. Trumble describes Lake Geneva as an “anchor city” from which travelers can explore the rest of Walworth County.


“Walworth County remains true to its heritage as a place where people can rest, recreate and be romantic,” she said.


Seeberg said the county offers a variety of recreational and cultural attractions from sailing on Geneva Lake to mountain biking in the Kettle Moraine State Forest to seeing a show at the Young Auditorium on the UW-Whitewater campus.


“We honestly have something for everyone,” Seeberg said. “Each of our communities offers something a little bit different.”


Seeberg said the tourism industry injects millions of dollars into the local economy at little cost.


“Visitors don’t tax our infrastructure. They come, they stay, they spend their money, they go home,” she said.


“It’s one of the top industries in the county and has been for many years,” she said. “The more we embrace what visitors are offering, the better we are financially.”


TOP 10 COUNTIES FOR TOURIST SPENDING IN 2007

1. Milwaukee—$1.68 billion.


2. Dane—$1.18 billion.


3. Sauk—$1.05 billion.


4. Waukesha—$649.20 million.


5. Brown—$530.06 million.


6. Walworth—$435.97 million.


7. Door—$404.195 million.


8. Outagamie—$355.81 million.


9. Sheboygan—$352.50 million.


10. Vilas—$257.86 million.



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