Tourism spending in Rock County rose in 2018 for the eighth consecutive year, growing by 3% from 2017, according to tourism data released Friday.
Visitors spent $251 million in 2018, up from $244.7 million in 2017, and generated $30 million in state and local taxes. Janesville contributed $145 million to the county’s tourism spending.
In Walworth County, visitor spending climbed by 4.6% to $569 million, ranking it the sixth-most prolific tourism economy in the state. Walworth County marked its largest increase in tourism spending in a year since 2011 to 2012, when it ballooned by $45.4 million.
Meanwhile, Rock County ranked 12th among Wisconsin’s 72 counties, down a peg from last year.
Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau commissioned Janesville-specific tourism data for the first time. She said Janesville’s visitor spending was highest in the third quarter last year, which is information the bureau previously hadn’t recorded.
In 2018, Janesville netted a 2.7% increase in visitor spending. Retail raked in $41 million, and food and beverage followed with more than $38 million. Growth was strongest in the retail and lodging sectors, according to data commissioned by the bureau from Tourism Economics.
In previous years, Rebout has said Janesville and Rock County’s hotel occupancy was nearly maxed out and that visitor spending could “plateau” if new hotel rooms weren’t added locally. She said visitors have been forced to stay in neighboring markets with available rooms.
Two hotels being built in Janesville—Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, 20 W. Milwaukee St., and TownPlace Suites, 2706 Pontiac Place—will add about 120 rooms by fall.
The 52,000-square-foot Mariott TownPlace Suites is being billed as an “all-suite/extended stay” hotel—the first of its type in Rock County, according to city memos. It’s slated to open in June.
Rebout said boosting the number of hotel rooms countywide could move the needle and propel future tourism spending.
“It’s not just about the hotel rooms. … We know that somebody who stays overnight is going to spend more money because they’re going to need those extra meals, they’re going to forget something,” Rebout said.
Rebout said new restaurants and ongoing downtown development could be contributing to Janesville’s spending hike. Places such as Lark, the Bodacious Shops, and Velvet and Tulle, for example, are pricier than other businesses and require visitors to spend more than they otherwise would at chain retailers, she said.
New data indicating Janesville’s peak season last year was from July to September is revealing, Rebout said. That information will help the bureau strategize and “move the needle when we need to,” Rebout said.
Kathleen Seeburg, executive director of the Walworth County Visitors Bureau, pointed to burgeoning festivals in Walworth County for its swell in tourism spending. She said the state’s advertising in outside markets is paying off.
New festivals such as Ribfest at the Walworth County Fairgrounds and the Geneva Lakes Burger Throwdown are drawing crowds and “really intriguing the general public and getting them to come to our area,” Seeburg said.
Walworth County also is seeing an influx of visitors from outside of the Chicago metro area, including Canada, Missouri and Minnesota, Seeburg said.
“Our area is definitely widening,” Seeburg said.