Explore La Crosse official says tourism could bounce back in summer months

Tourism is suffering as COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep residents from traveling
La Crosse

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Visitors bring in close to $280 million during the year to La Crosse County, but this year, the coronavirus is derailing tourism.

Leaders in La Crosse built this place into a tourist’s destination. The headlines have told the story of tourism in Wisconsin in recent years as communities pulled together to develop their tourism playbook. It’s showed growth and many counties in the Driftless Region follow that trend.

Trempealeau, La Crosse, Monroe, and Vernon counties have all had more people spend their money in these communities. However, this momentum has been upended by a shutdown of travel throughout the state.

“Tourism has taken the biggest if not the biggest hit of any industry out there,” said A.J. Frels, executive director of Explore La Crosse.

Visitors spent $279 million in La Crosse County in 2018. That’s $23 million each month on average. The quiet La Crosse Streets are screaming louder than they sound for people like Frels.

“Everybody’s feeling this,” he said. “Nobody is singled out in it and we are all doing the best we can.”

Frels said he can’t predict how many tourism dollars our communities will lose from this pandemic, but it’s not good.

“It’s huge. It’s a big number and it will be regardless,” Frels said. “It is not only for our region but for the state, for the entire country and internationally.”

Every day that passes is money lost but he said the county is in a position to bounce back fast.

“More people are adjusting for flying vacations to a drive-in vacation,” Frels said. “That really lends itself well to the La Crosse Area.”

If regulations are lifted by the summer season he said there is hope to bring visitors back.

“Our recovery time should be considerably shorter than some of the major destinations that do rely on the airports,” Frels said.

For now, safety is more important than dollar signs.

“We want to keep our residents, our staff, and everybody safe and healthy,” Frels said.

In the meantime, leaders are working to combat this adversity.

“We have already adjusted our budget. The finance committee has had several meetings,” Frels said. “The staff and I have talked and there are a lot of adjustments we have made.”