Visitor spending in the Fox Cities declined to $333 million in 2020, a 35 percent drop from $511 million spent in a record-setting 2019. 2020 spending directly supported 4,185 jobs in the Fox Cities tourism industry with employee income of $96.5 million.
Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic weighed heavily on tourism in the Fox Cities. Visitor spending levels have not been seen this low since 2011.
“Pandemic-induced losses erased about 10 years of growth in visitor spending,” said Pam Seidl, executive director of the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Tourism in the Fox Cities is heavily weighted to large groups like conventions and sports tournaments, as well as business travel. Full recovery will most likely take several years.”
Visitor spending is tracked across five categories including lodging, food and beverage, retail, recreation, and local transportation. Lodging suffered the most significant losses with a total 2020 spend of $50 million, down 57 percent from 2019. Recreation and food and beverage followed with respective year-over-year decreases of 35 percent and 33 percent, respectively, and local transportation decreased by 28 percent. Leaning on the Fox Cities’ draw as a regional retail destination, the retail category showed losses of 18 percent, overtaking lodging as the second highest-share of the visitor dollar behind food and beverage.
Wisconsin itself fared slightly better in visitor spend losses with a 28 percent year-over-year decrease —$13.7 billion in 2019 to $9.8 billion in 2020. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, Wisconsin welcomed 90.7 million visitors in 2020 and employment supported by visitor spending totaled 107,500 jobs. Tourism in the Fox Cities generated $45.3 million in state and local government revenues, while tourism throughout Wisconsin generated $1.2 billion, down from $1.6 billion in 2019.
“In 2021, we are shifting our focus to the road ahead,” said Maddie Uhlenbrauck, marketing communications manager for the FCCVB. “We are starting to see signs of recovery within the tourism industry and research data shows that 87 percent of Americans plan to travel in the next six months. We’re optimistic that rising traveler confidence will result in a strong second half of 2021.”