The Power of Travel
Last year travelers spent $12 billion in Wisconsin. Tourism advocates at the state and community levels, along with individual businesses, are helping ensure we top that this year. By Judy Dahl
Tourism is one of the three pillars of industry in our state, alongside manufacturing and agriculture, notes Wisconsin Secretary of Tourism Kelli Trumble. “It supported 286,394 full-time equivalent jobs in 2009 and $6.72 billion in wages,” she says. “Many times people don’t realize the power of travel in Wisconsin.”
Travelers spend over $1 billion annually in Dane County alone, and in 2009, 27 percent of that travel was for meetings and conventions while 41 percent was other business travel. While travel decreased in 2009, Deb Archer, president of the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), has already seen a resurgence this year. Hotel occupancy, which dipped from 60 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2009, was up to 53 percent as of May. First-quarter room taxes were up three percent from the same period last year.
Along with being a tremendous economic driver, tourism adds to our quality of life—behind every Wisconsin tourism experience, be it an attraction, festival, restaurant or lodging property, is an innovator who created something wholly original and fun for our travelers and residents. This contributes to people choosing to live in Wisconsin, from businesses relocating or expanding here to top-notch employees choosing to work here. It all adds up to a great opportunity for our state, Trumble indicates, which is why the Department of Tourism exists.
THE STATE'S MARKETING AGENCY
“Our mission is to inspire people to love the Wisconsin travel experience, and through that, to protect jobs and grow the economy through traveler spending,” Trumble says. As the state’s marketing agency, the Department of Tourism spends roughly $10 million annually to talk up our state, showing what makes Wisconsin stand out when it comes to tourism options.
“We have a very detailed, diversified marketing plan that includes everything from traditional media—print, radio, TV—to social media like Twitter and Facebook,” explains Trumble. “We’re rolling out a new iPhone app this summer.”
She deems the department’s website, travelwisconsin.com, its No. 1 asset. “All our marketing aims to drive people to the site,” Trumble says. “When people use our iPhone app, they’ll draw on the site’s database when deciding where to stay, dine, camp or make other travel decisions.
“We help businesses attract visitors through our marketing,” she continues. “One thing that’s new on our website is travel packages and deals. Consumers are really looking for great bargains today, and we help businesses by marketing their deals.”
The Tourism Department works closely with visitors bureaus throughout the state, including the GMCVB, and with the private sector. “It’s a very important pyramid effect,” says Trumble. “We have the vision and leadership at the state level, visitors bureaus market their individual areas and businesses like Ho-Chunk Gaming market their unique offerings.”
One integrated effort is the Department of Tourism’s co-op marketing. “We buy space in magazines like this one and share the cost with our industry partners,” Trumble says. “Organizations like the GMCVB and, say, Restaurant Magnus, can come under our umbrella and we save on our media buys and have a unified message.”
The “Meetings Mean Business in Wisconsin” campaign is another combined effort. “As an industry we’ve rolled out this initiative to help turn around the meeting and convention business, which was Wisconsin’s fastest-growing travel market before the recession but was hardest hit by the downturn,” says Trumble.
“At the heart of this program is an invitation from Governor Doyle, encouraging the state’s CEOs to choose Wisconsin when holding their next meeting, conference, convention, board meeting or training session,” she adds. “Research shows that if every Wisconsin business would hold just one more meeting here per year—just 25 people for two nights—each one would attract $16,000 in traveler spending to our state.”
The Wisconsin Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, of which the GMCVB is a member, is working closely with the Department of Tourism on this initiative. Its website, thinkwisconsin.com, includes many resources for meeting planners. “And this network of 35 bureaus stands ready to help businesses plan any size meeting,” says Trumble.
GREATER MADISON'S OFFICIAL DESTINATION MARKETING ORGANIZATION
“We provide support services for events held here,” says Archer. “These include sending out leads to our partners, businesses that provide flowers, gift baskets, audio-visual services or other things meeting planners might need. We facilitate this so planners don’t have to run around and find out who those businesses are.”
The GMCVB actively promotes greater Madison to potential event participants to increase attendance. “We push our website (visitmadison.com) out to them and send messages to get them excited about coming here,” Archer says. “We try to get people to bring their families, which extends their stays and is very important to the economy.”
Convention sales is the GMCVB’s largest department, with several full-time staff dedicated to promoting greater Madison to convention and event planners. “We’ll respond to any request, but our sales efforts are targeted to certain industries, including bioscience, agribusiness, government and health care,” says Archer. “We proactively attend trade shows, like the recent BIO International Convention in Chicago, to put ourselves where we can interact with these people.”
The organization also has a campaign called “Bring Your Meeting Home,” in which GMCVB staff partner with local people engaged in professional associations. “We help them promote Madison to their convention site-selection committees,” Archer says. “For example, we worked with the UW–Madison’s Dr. Bryan Becker, president of the National Kidney Foundation, which is holding its 2010 U.S. Transplant Games here.”
Bringing sporting events to greater Madison is an important priority for GMCVB, which recently received a substantial grant to promote them. “We’ve had a lot of success stories—the Ironman Triathlon is in its eighth year here, we have the Ultimate Frisbee College Championships, our first Centurion Cycling race and more,” says Archer. “Lance Armstrong will open the Ride the Drive event this fall, and when Madison starts having those associations with world-class athletes, we really start to become known as a destination.”
The GMCVB promotes greater Madison’s leisure activities to areas within a five-hour drive of Madison. “We want to get people to come here and enjoy dining, the lakes, attractions like the Farmers’ Market, the Capitol, Art Fair on the Square …” says Archer.
“And we stay connected with other visitors bureaus,” she continues. “We have a very collegial relationship with the Wisconsin Dells’ bureau, for example; our travelers might visit the International Crane Foundation or the Circus World Museum, and Ho-Chunk is a big draw for leisure travelers, particularly seniors.”
AN ENTERTAINMENT DESTINATION WITH SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Seventy percent of Ho-Chunk Gaming’s visitors hail from Wisconsin, and eight percent of those are from greater Madison. Ho-Chunk is a member of GMCVB, as well as the Wisconsin Dells Convention & Visitors Bureau and several area chambers of commerce.
“We get exposure through these organization’s efforts to promote tourism in the area,” notes Missy Tracy, public relations senior manager at Ho-Chunk Gaming – Wisconsin Dells. “We post all our events monthly on their websites, which helps get us out there. We benefit from the state Department of Tourism’s marketing too; it’s another nice tool for us.”
Ho-Chunk’s goal is to have the area’s best entertainment, nightlife, dining, accommodations, and professional convention and banquet facilities. “We’re open 24 hours, so there’s nonstop gaming action,” Tracy says.
The “silver generation,” ages 65–75, the majority of them women, make up Ho-Chunk’s largest visitor group. Ages 56–65 are next; again, most are women. But earlier this year the organization launched an initiative to introduce a new generation, people ages 18 and up, to the game of bingo. “It’s a trendy way to play, a high-adrenaline-rush experience,” says Tracy. “It lasts one hour and is played in the dark, with neon ink daubers to mark the cards. A DJ engages the crowd, the latest hits are playing, merchandise is thrown out and there’s a laser light show.”
Ho-Chunk also wants to gain more meeting and convention business. “The Dells’ visitors bureau anticipates growth in that business here, and for this fiscal year we’ve really stepped up our sales efforts in that area, working with the bureaus, and with meeting planners through shows and expos,” she continues. “We have five restaurants, headline entertainers, slot machines, table games, off-track betting, bingo, an aquatic center … Convention attendees don’t have to leave our site because there’s so much to do.”
Dells-area businesses collaborate to attract visitors. “Community businesses have begun supporting many of the local festivals,” Tracy says. “We sponsored a bingo tent at the Flake Out Festival in January, and gave away prizes, and will do so at Polish Fest this fall at Mt. Olympus Resort.
“We and other businesses will have floats in the annual Zha Wa Days parade in September; it’s a nice way to wind down the summer season, and 300,000 people are expected to attend again this year,” she adds. “We compete as businesses, but we all work together to promote the Dells as a tourism destination.”
*SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL SECTION