September tourism spending shows Wisconsin on track for strong recovery

MADISON, Wis. — When the coronavirus pandemic began, tourism businesses were some of the first to take major financial hits. Now, Wisconsin’s tourism industry is finally showing signs of recovery.

For the first time since 2019, the state’s monthly year-over-year tourism spending grew in September while the national average was still down 9%. Tourism Secretary-designee Anne Sayers said the fact September’s tourism spending overtook 2019’s record numbers shows the industry is on track for a strong recovery.

Still, tourism officials said the whole of 2021 is expected to lag 2019’s spending.

“The tourism industry is an essential part of our state and our economy,” Gov. Tony Evers said. “We’ve put more than $200 million in federal recovery funds toward helping our tourism and hospitality industries get through this pandemic and bounce back, and I’m proud of our work to help support our economic recovery.”

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While 2021 likely won’t reach 2019’s spending levels, the United States Travel Association’s monthly tourism spending data shows Wisconsin is outperforming its Midwest neighbors.

According to the report, both Illinois and Minnesota lagged the national average with 21% and 20% spending declines while Iowa and Michigan exceeded the average, losing 5% and 3% of spending compared to 2019.

Wisconsin’s 1% growth was the only state in the Midwest to exceed spending for any month compared to 2019 since the start of the pandemic.

“We expect to see more bumps in the long road to recovery, but we are on the right path and we want to celebrate this moment for the tourism industry workers whose livelihoods depend on this rebound,” Tourism Secretary-designee Anne Sayers said. “While meetings and conventions and other large group gatherings are slow to return, leisure travelers are making up for it by spending their time and their dollars in Wisconsin to experience the unexpected and when that happens, Wisconsin wins.”

RELATED: Tourism spending in Madison dropped more than 62% in 2020

Earlier this year, state officials said the pandemic caused statewide tourism spending to drop 30% in 2020. Madison saw a more than 60% drop in tourism spending due to the pandemic.