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Walworth County leads state rise in tourism

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ANN MARIE AMES
May 7, 2011

A report showing tourism spending in Walworth County increased more than in any other county is good news for local business owners.


But it’s no reason to drop everything and throw a party, said George Hennerly, president of the Lake Geneva Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.


“We’re not here to gloat,” Hennerly said.


Tourists spent 1.8 percent more across the state in 2010 than in 2009, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism report released Friday.


Walworth County had the largest increase of any county: 11.8 percent, according to the report.


Hennerly said the increase reflects what he describes as a healthy local tourism industry.


But the story goes deeper than the numbers, he said.


For example, several Lake Geneva resorts closed and reopened after making improvements, he said. On nearby Delavan Lake, Lake Lawn Resort has been closed since December.


“There’s a lot of volatility there,” Hennerly said of the local market.


The 2010 season got a boost from something no recreation professional can control: the weather. The mild, dry fall stretched on and on.


“Last year, the weather was so perfect for so long,” Hennerly said. “It made 2010 look great.”


Hennerly thinks Gov. Scott Walker has a good plan to support the tourism industry.


“I love what I’m seeing out of the governor’s office,” Hennerly said. “For a long time we were going the wrong way. But there is no faster way to get a return on investment than through investing in tourism.”


Walker proposes to increase tourism spending by nearly $3.5 million over the next two years, The Associated Press reported Friday when the Department of Tourism released its report. The report coincides with national tourism and travel week, which starts Monday.


The state hired a survey research company to calculate the amount of money travelers spent in the Badger State in 2010. The survey included 1,500 face-to-face interviews with travelers, 3,000 phone interviews with hotels and lodging facilities, and 800 phone interviews with Wisconsin families that hosted traveling guests, according to Department of Tourism documents.


Tourists spent $1.2 billion in Wisconsin in 2010, according to the report. That generated $2 billion in taxes and other fees for the state and for local municipalities.


Tourists weren’t the only people who supported the local recreation industry last year. A strong local market in addition to the traveling market supported a successful year for at least one local golf resort.


Jennifer Myers, the assistant general manager at Geneva National Golf Club, said she is optimistic about the 2011 season but she’s not holding her breath.


“The weather’s been so horrible, nobody’s thinking golf,” Myers said.


However, the corporate group market is strong and coming back better than it has in recent years, Myers said.


A big unknown is how fuel prices will affect travelers.


Drivers are paying more than $4 per gallon of gas in 14 states, including Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, released Thursday. The average price of gas is 13 cents more than last week and $1.16 more than a year ago.


However, several oil refineries that supply gasoline to the Midwest are coming back online after having been shut down in the wake of recent storms, said Pam Moen, assistant vice president of public affairs for AAA.


That could ease prices for gasoline in Wisconsin, Moen said. So could recent declines in the price of crude oil.


Myers said it’s too early to tell how gas prices will affect summer travel around Lake Geneva and the county.


“Gas prices are more of a short-term thing,” Myers said. “We’re optimistic and hope things keep moving.”


Hennerly also is optimistic.


“The tourism industry in Walworth County is in great shape and getting better,” he said.


By the numbers

$12,303,015,785


Amount tourists spent in Wisconsin in 2010.


Dane, Sauk, Milwaukee


Three counties where tourists spent more than $1 billion. Milwaukee County was No. 1 with $1.644 billion.


$8.738 billion


Amount travelers spent for fun. That was 71 percent of the total spent. The other 29 percent was for business and convention travel.


198,980


Number of jobs directly created by Wisconsin’s tourism industry. The industry generated an additional 101,984 jobs in other sectors.


$414,223,646


Amount visitors spent in Walworth County in 2010.


0.36 percent


Increase in tourism spending in Rock County from 2009 to 2010. Visitors spent $217,425,601 in Rock County in 2010.



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