In an interview with The Wheeler Report, Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett talks about tourism promotion in and out of Wisconsin, social media usage by the department, the challenges facing Wisconsin, and what makes Wisconsin iconic.
What is the status of tourism in Wisconsin?
Outstanding! Over the past five years we have seen a 30% growth. Wisconsin’s tourism economy hit $19.3 billion in 2015. That was an all-time high and almost $800 million more than 2014, which was $18.5 billion. Visitor volume for those five years has also increased from 92.5 million to 105.2 million. In Wisconsin, 26% of visitor spending is lodging, which was up 7.3% last year. In addition, visitors spend $3 billion on food and beverage, and retail sales increased by 5.2%. (Additional information)
Just about every type of tourism is up. Sports tourism is really growing. Not only did sports tourism not go down during the recession, it increased. We are putting resources behind this area with our Ready, Set, Go! Grants.
What are some of the challenges the Department of Tourism face?
Many of the challenges we face are things that are not under our control. For example, to grow international tourism we need more direct flights. International travelers visit for 3 to 4 weeks at a time. Right now, we have international flights in and out of Milwaukee, Appleton and Green Bay, but we need more. The easier it is to get here, the more people will choose to come. In our international marketing efforts, we partner with other Midwest states and Chicago because international visitors arrive in Chicago and then travel north. Popular destinations for international travelers are the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, Door County and Milwaukee.
Other issues that affect international travel that our out of our control include strength of the dollar or a national crises taking place in other countries. That said, we continue to work on growing international market and we see a huge growth opportunity here.
What technology and social media does the Department of Tourism use?
Everything! When it comes to using technology to market tourism we are all over it. We know that if you are not using technology in your marketing strategy then you are missing the boat. By 2020, three quarters of the world’s population will have smart phones. That’s amazing to think about. Being able to present your brand or product on a mobile platform is critical. Instagram has been a huge social media channel for us because it is so visual.
On TravelWisconsin.com, we use every means we can to keep the information fresh and new. The content on our website includes blogs and articles written by celebrities and travel writers, cutting-edge video storytelling, and photography. One of our most popular pages is the Fall Color Report. It’s the second highest viewed page on the site, which comes as no surprise because outside of New England, Wisconsin is the number one place to visit to see fall colors. The tourism industry keeps the site current and relevant with listings of their hotels, restaurants, activities, attractions and events. We have over 15,000 listings on TravelWisconsin.com. We know that all of this focus on the digital space is working. Last year we had over 7.4 million users on TravelWisconsin.com, an increase of 36% from 2014. We continue to make enhancements to TravelWisconsin.com to keep it interactive and a great user experience.
Wisconsin is competing with other states that have much larger tourism budgets, like California and Florida. What is Wisconsin doing to stand out?
Advertising is becoming increasingly competitive both nationally and internationally. States like Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana are now advertising in the same markets as Wisconsin. You have to think outside the box to stand out and get the most visibility for your investment. We are doing that with award-winning advertising for Wisconsin. One of our most successful initiatives was a creative out-of-home execution where we wrapped Chicago’s red double-decker tour buses in a Camp Wisconsin theme. This year, we created Supper Club truck wrap for Neesvig’s Food Service that are out on the roads now all over the Midwest. We have won 78 awards for public relations and marketing excellence since 2011. That’s a big deal.
We continue to stretch our budget in the most effective ways possible. As an industry, we will always advocate for more money, and we are very lucky to have the support of Gov. Walker and the Legislature. Tourism marketing continues to be a great return on investment. Last year our ROI was 8:1. That means for every dollar the Department of Tourism spends on advertising, the state gets $8 in return. That’s up from 6:1 when I started. It translates into $1.5 billion in state and local taxes, which means more money to put towards funding for schools and other state needs.
We’ve also changed how we market. Before I came on board as Secretary, the Department of Tourism had five different slogans in 15 years. We dropped the slogans and focused on what vacations are – fun. We base all of our marketing efforts on the #1 travel motivator of having fun. We are focusing on different areas that we know we can have an impact.
For example, we are focusing on multi-generational travel, which is described as three or more generations traveling together. Multi-generational travel is up 25%. These travelers want their vacation to be drivable and affordable. Wisconsin is the perfect place for that.
An initiative we are proud of is our online videos. We started a series of online videos that showcase specific activities that touch people with whatever they are interested in, whether it is sports, water, leisure, mountain biking, kayaking, culinary, etc. The videos are 2-3 mins long and offer the luxury of a commercial with extended time. These storytelling videos provide a complete picture of what the activity or experience is really like.
Pet travel has been a big winner for us. I have been traveling Wisconsin for 24 years, and there is pet-friendly travel everywhere. Pets are part of the family and people want to travel with them. We are working to get the word out that Wisconsin welcomes pets. We have cabins, bed & breakfasts, hotels, and motels that are all pet friendly. It’s not just a niche market, it’s bigger than that.
Culinary tourism is another driver. This year, we are putting the spotlight on Supper Clubs, which are an iconic and quintessential experience in Wisconsin. It was a natural fit for us because all 72 counties have supper clubs. Supper clubs are more than a restaurant; they are a dining experience. People aren’t rushed in and out. They are there to enjoy themselves. We took that Supper Club concept beyond the traditional ad campaign and did something that hadn’t been done before; we created the Travel Wisconsin Supper Club Concession Stand at the Kohl Center. It has been a huge hit. Sales in that stand are up 70% from the previous year.
We work to stay true to our statute to market Wisconsin. We don’t rely on slogans; we base all of our marketing efforts on the brand of fun to capture the spirit of the State. We love the challenge and we are winning at the tourism game. We have every intention to continue what we are doing. We are thrilled about some upcoming initiatives and our 2017 ad campaigns are already in development. There are exciting things ahead for Tourism in Wisconsin.