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RACINE COUNTY – Last year’s COVID-19 pandemic contributed to steep cuts in tourism spending statewide and locally. But travel officials anticipate a rebound as vaccinations become more widespread and travelers grow optimistic about making up for lost 2020 vacations.

Direct visitor spending in Wisconsin fell 28 percent from a record $13.6 billion in 2019 to $9.8 billion last year. The number of tourism-related jobs dropped by 22.3 percent to 157,332 positions.

Racine County saw direct visitor spending drop from a record $260.6 million in 2019 to $189.5 million, a 27.3 percent decline. Likewise, Kenosha County’s direct tourism spending fell by 23.4 percent year-over-year from $239.7 million to $183.7 million.

“As everyone knows, the travel and tourism sector suffered the worst blow from the pandemic in 2020 of any sector. Unfortunately, Racine County was not immune to this, and the economic impact numbers reflect this,” said Dave Blank, president/CEO of Real Racine, the county’s destination marketing organization. “We have, however, begun the rebound and are looking forward to a solid 2021.”

Racine County mirrored the rest of the state in total business sales related to tourism, such as hotels, restaurants, and retail, at $379 million last year. However, that was a 20.7 percent decrease from 2019. Total tourism business sales declined by 22.2 percent year-over-year.

Tourism accounted for 3,455 jobs in Racine County last year, a drop of 17.5 percent compared with 2019.

The research was compiled for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism by the firm Tourism Economics and released for National Travel and Tourism Week (May 2-8).

Racine County ranked 13th among Wisconsin’s 72 counties in direct visitor spending last year. Kenosha County was in 14th place. Milwaukee, Dane and Sauk counties were the state’s leaders for tourism economic impact.

Travel Plans On The Upswing

“It’s been no secret that 2020 was a difficult year, but it’s lesser-known that all early accounts of 2021 show that the tourism recovery has arrived. This is the moment we’ve all been working toward for more than a year,” Acting Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Anne Sayers said in a statement.

According to a weekly survey of travel sentiment conducted on April 28 by the Longwoods International research firm, 86 percent of those surveyed have travel plans within the next six months. The firm surveyed 1,000 people age 18+ to gauge attitudes about travel and the economy.

The Longwoods survey showed that respondents with travel plans have been above 80 percent since early February. This is after bottoming out at 57 percent in mid-December of 2020. In the most recent survey, 23 percent plan to travel within the next 1 to 2 months. While another 25 percent say, they’ll be traveling within the next 3 to 5 months. Nearly a third (31 percent) are choosing destinations they can drive to instead of flying.

The Great Outdoors Beckons

The Wisconsin Department of Tourism found that outdoor recreation is a big draw for visitors as “an essential respite for many during the pandemic.” According to state data:

  • Wisconsin State Parks recorded more than 21 million visits in 2020
  • Sales of State Park passes were up 42 percent, with non-residents passes up 142 percent.
  • Fishing license sales were up 11 percent, with a 75 percent increase in first-time fishing licenses.
  • Total camping nights increased by 6 percent last year. Further, despite state campgrounds being closed in April, May, and part of June.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...