Governor touts tourism's economic might at Ho Chunk conference

Governor touts tourism's economic might at Ho Chunk conference

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The governor had some fun Monday touting the economic jolt Wisconsin’s tourism industry provides and the head of the state agency that promotes tourism unveiled two new ad campaigns featuring supper clubs and pets.

Gov. Scott Walker gave the opening address at the Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism, speaking to about 900 people at the Ho Chunk convention center near Wisconsin Dells.

Walker updated the audience with the state of Wisconsin’s tourism and its impact on the economy.

“Investing in our tourism industry is great for Wisconsin and for our taxpayers,” Walker said. “Last year the advertising campaigns developed by tourism reached hundreds of thousands of people and we saw more visitors to our state, which resulted in higher tax revenue.”

Walker said that for every dollar spent in 2015 on tourism advertising, “eight dollars came back to the state in the form of incremental tax revenues.”

People are attracted to Wisconsin because of the fun they have here, he said. “The reason why families keep coming back here year after year is not because of a slogan of fun, but because they have fun. It’s because they create memories that last from one generation to the next.”

In 2014, tourism had an $18.5 billion impact on Wisconsin’s economy, according to Tourism Economics, a research firm commissioned by the Department of Tourism. The firm said Wisconsin tourism supports 187,643 jobs throughout the state, adding more than 6,200 jobs since 2011, while visitors generated $1.4 billion in state and local revenue.

The tourism department claims this has saved taxpayers $620 per household. The department also reported that for the first time in four years, all 72 counties saw an increase in visitor spending.

The 2015 tourism economic impact figures will be available in May.

According to travel research firm Longwoods International, Wisconsin ranks first in the Midwest for fun, family atmosphere, uniqueness, affordability and outdoor recreation.

Despite the number crunching in Walker’s speech, he kept his presentation light by displaying t-shirts and memorabilia from around the state including walking onto the stage with fishing gear. Midway though his talk he put on a pair of sunglasses and hoisted a bottle of Leinenkugel and donned a Harley-Davidson leather coat touting its Milwaukee headquarters.

“I love to get out and see the country and the great places we have,” Walker said. “Often times when we go hunting we go to supper clubs. There are many great ones out there.”

Stephanie Klett, secretary of the Department of Tourism, addressed the gathering before Walker, unveiling a new ad campaign by the department.

Two new television commercials highlight Wisconsin’s playful side featuring supper clubs and families with pets — stressing that “all dogs are welcome” in Wisconsin. The pet commercial highlights Bayfield resident John Unger, who was photographed in 2012 floating his sick 20-year-old shepherd mix to sleep in Lake Superior. The picture went viral with over 10 million views and was featured on national news broadcasts.

The ads can be found at The campaign also includes radio spots, billboards, print ads, and digital and social media.

Klett also spoke about “culinary tourism,” which she said is a high travel motivator, noting that supper clubs have been a Wisconsin tradition for nearly 100 years. The supper club commercial pays homage to the tradition and was filmed at Buckhorn Supper Club on Lake Koshkonong in Milton, about 40 miles southeast of Madison.

When asked why it’s important for Wisconsin to spend millions of dollars promoting tourism she pointed to an example in Colorado when the legislature stopped funding tourism promotion. She said lawmakers made the mistake assuming tourists will always come without being reminded through television ads because the Rocky Mountains speak for themselves.

After the legislative change, Klett said Colorado took a large hit with tourist dollars coming into the state that plummeted for many years until the state legalized marijuana in early 2014.

The conference attracts innkeepers, restaurateurs, local tourism officials, attraction operators, state agency officials, tourism educators, and other representatives of the hospitality industry. It is Wisconsin’s largest educational and networking event for the tourism industry.

The conference will continue through today with more workshops including one on “bold leadership through disruptive change,” a seminar on “the psychology of customer experience: why people buy stuff,” and a workshop on Google marketing.

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