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Nonprofits boosting county tourism revenue

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, September 27, 2012

— Tourism in Rock County is up for the first half of this year compared to the same six months in 2011, and nonprofit organizations are getting much of the credit.

"Our room tax (revenue) is up by 10 percent over last year through June 30, and we're anticipating we'll end the year stronger because we had a lot of activity in September," said Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"People are starting to move and travel again," she said.

Rebout estimated nonprofits account for at least 60 percent of the tourism in Rock County.

Corporate businesses might have pulled back on spending for meetings and conventions, but nonprofits and service clubs are about networking and seeing each other, she said.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, nonprofits from the Midwest Blind Bowling Association to the Creative School of Arts booked 1,880 hotel room nights.

"It looks like the first half of the year, compared to last year, the number of room nights booked by nonprofits is a little bit better than in 2011," Rebout said.

Pushing tourism numbers up from July through the third week of September have been at least a half-dozen nonprofit organization events—from the Rock Valley Carvers Club show and sale to the World Water Ski Show Tournament, which booked a total of more than 4,300 hotel room nights, she said.

"All these attendees come with economic impact for each day when people are out spending dollars in the community," Rebout said.

Local tourism will get another boost in December when Janesville hosts the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Convention. Already 700 room nights are booked, she said.

Janesville has 750 hotel rooms available. When visitors come to stay, they book rooms from one to multiple nights, Rebout said.

The convention bureau leads, supports and promotes tourism in the area. It is funded by the local hotel room tax, receiving 37.5 percent of the room tax collected by the city of Janesville. When money comes into the convention bureau, it is put back into marketing the community, Rebout said.

Tourism is rebounding statewide, too. A study conducted by Tourism Economics shows the impact of tourism on Wisconsin's economy was $16 billion in 2011, up 8 percent from the previous year.

Travelers to Rock County in 2011 spent about $175 million, which also represents an increase of 10 percent over 2010, Rebout said.

The convention bureau has three targets—meetings and conventions, motor coach/bus tours and leisure travelers. Members of each are drawn to different local attractions, she said.

The historic Lincoln-Tallman House, Rotary Botanical Gardens, Rock Aqua Jays, Janesville Performing Arts Center, the Armory, Wisconsin Wagon Co. and Bliss Communications print distribution facility rank at the top among motor coach tourists, Rebout said.

Rotary Botanical Gardens and the Lincoln-Tallman House are the biggest attractions for leisure travelers, she said.

Those who come here to attend meetings and conventions, Rebout said, seek affordability and flexibility of meeting space.

Even though there are about 15 local business tourist attractions, the nonprofits are bigger draws, Rebout said.

Last updated: 4:33 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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