Mayors hope to increase tourism, cut costs by joining forces

La Crosse, Onalaska and other local municipalities look to merge tourism promotion

There is a long list of attractions drawing people to our area at all times of the year and tourism is vital to our local economy.

The city of La Crosse and the city of Onalaska both have their own departments promoting tourism in their respective cities, but now the two, along with a few other local municipalities, want to work together to promote tourism in La Crosse County.

Onalaska and La Crosse do things a bit differently when it comes to promoting tourism, but both mayors feel like a collaboration could cut costs.

Next week they’ll create a committee with representatives from La Crosse, Onalaska, Holmen, West Salem and the Town of Campbell, look at the possibility of joining forces to promote tourism in La Crosse County.

When tourists come to town, “they don’t know where Onalaska ends and La Crosse begins and they don’t care,” Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said.

If tourists view the cities as one why shouldn’t tourism be promoted as one?

“I think we’re much, much stronger together than we are separate,” Chilsen said.

“It think it makes us more efficient, spending our dollars more wisely and a lot more effective,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said.

The idea looks good on paper, but both cities handle tourism in a different way.

“Right now our tourism is part of the city and theirs is separate from the city,” Chilsen said. Which is why a committee, appointed by both mayors, will take a closer look at the pros and cons of becoming one.

“They’re going to come back with recommendations on if this makes sense and how it makes sense,” Chilsen said.

Both Chilsen and Kabat realize, though, there is a lot for the committee to examine.

“The governance of how this entity would be structured,” Kabat said.

“How are we going to deal with staff?” Chilsen said.

“Where it’s going to be located?” Kabat said.

“How is it going to be financed?” Chilsen said.

“What’s the budget look like?” Kabat said.

But both mayors believe a joined effort could save or even increase the tourism budget.

“Instead of having to spend for multiple different marketing pieces we can consolidate the whole effort to brand the whole area,” Kabat said.

“The way to increase that budget is to put heads in beds and we’re stronger together than we are separately. We will put more heads in beds and that means our budgets will go up,” Chilsen said.

Kabat said the ultimate goal would be to make La Crosse County the No. 1 tourist destination in the Midwest and said this is a step in that direction.

A committee is expected to be put together next week they will have two to three months to look at this idea. Then all involved municipalities will vote on whether they like the idea.