Normally at this time of year, the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau would hold its annual tourism breakfast. Due to the pandemic, the organization shared its message via video, with Pam Seidl, FCCVB executive director, outlining the damage to the Fox Cities tourism economy resulting from COVID-19 and sharing what it will take to recover.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism industry exceptionally hard. Tourism’s economic losses in Wisconsin are significant but inconsistent,” Seidl said.
There have been winners and losers on the tourism front, she continued, and the Fox Cities largely has been on the losing end. When it comes to visitor spending, the region relies on large group meetings and conventions, business travel, sports tournaments and mass gatherings such as the Mile of Music festival. The pandemic curtailed all of these.
Among the fallout in 2020:
- Loss of 160-plus convention and sporting events that they anticipated to drive $10 million in visitor spending
- Hotel occupancy of just 34 percent, down 40 percent compared to 2019 and hotel revenue losses of more than $40 million
- Room tax collections down 55 percent compared to 2019 — room taxes fund the FCCVB’s operating revenue as well as the bond payments for the Fox Cities Exhibition Center and Community First Champion Center
- Loss of 47 events, 11,126 hotel room nights and $2.79 million in direct visitor spending
- Loss of 111 sporting events, 36,981 hotel room nights and $6.49 million in direct visitor spending
- At the same time, the Fox Cities did host 112 sporting events in 2020, bringing 13,656 room nights and $4.42 million direct visitor spending
At the same time, Seidl says the FCCVB staff has remained focus on the organization’s mission and rescheduled events, secured future events and maintained awareness of the Fox Cities as a tourism destination, including launched the Fox Cities Original brand. The FCCVB also gave out $286,000 in grants to struggling organizations. Sound fiscal planning and reserves from a strong 2019 tourism year have helped keep the organization afloat, Seidl says.
As of right now, the Fox Cities has 220 events planned for the future, resulting in 36,981 hotel room nights and an estimated $11.98 million in visitor spending. Seidl says it’s vital for businesses to focus on what they can do to continue operations and help ensure public health and safety.
The resumption of business travel, the ability to hold large group gatherings safely and consumer confidence all will be vital to recovery, Seidl says. “Tourism will take time to rebound. Some industry experts estimate it will be 2024 before a full recovery happens.”