Kewaunee County ranks second in state in increased tourism spending for second year in row
For a second straight year, Kewaunee County is among the fastest-growing places in Wisconsin for tourists to spend their vacation money.
A report released Friday, May 3 by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism said the county ranked second of the state's 72 counties in increased percentage of direct tourist spending in 2018, with a 17.65% jump from 2017. Kewaunee County also ranked first in two other tourist economic categories and second in two more, according to the report.
Tourists spent $23.5 million last year that was directly related to their visits to the county, compared to $20 million in 2017. The previous year's report from the state said tourists increased their spending from $17.6 million in 2016, which gave Kewaunee County a 13.41% rise from 2016 to '17, also second in the state.
"We're really excited to see another big increase of the numbers in 2018 to follow up our big year in 2017," said Jennifer Gonzalez, the county's tourism coordinator and public information officer.
The 2018 percentage increase trailed Pepin County, which saw a rise from $7 million to $8.3 million, or 18.2 percent. While 66 of Wisconsin's 72 counties reported increases in direct tourist spending, only one other reported an increase of more than 15% — Dunn, at 15.48 — and just seven others had increases of more than 10%, all located in the western half of the state.
Gonzalez said there doesn't appear to be one specific reason for 2018's growth in tourist spending, compared to the year before, when the county hosted Wisconsin Farm Technology Days.
Gonzalez said, though, that she felt the county's festivals, wineries, charter fishing industry and other outdoor recreation opportunities are gaining better awareness across the state and even the country. She noted, for example, that the annual Czech and Kolache Festival in August at Kewaunee Heritage Farm received a write-up on the National Geographic website in 2016 as the best food festival in the state.
"I think we're just becoming more known," Gonzalez told the Star-News. "I think we're gaining momentum by getting ourselves out there … Being recognized in national publications is definitely a big draw."
In the press release announcing the report, Gonzalez also cited collaboration between the Algoma, Kewaunee and Luxemburg chambers of commerce to create a more countywide effort to attract visitors.
Gonzalez noted that Winter Park, the Kewaunee ski and snowboard hill, saw a second straight year of record-breaking attendance (from 11,073 in 2017-18 to 13,674 this past season) with visitors from about 20 states. The county also opened fat tire bike trails in two of its parks and hosted a race for a regional fat-bike series at Ryan Park in February.
Kewaunee County ranked first in the state in the percent of increase in total tourism-related employment from 2017 to 2018 — 14.14%, from 312 to 356 — and total income for tourism-related employees — 10.5%, from $5.2 million to $5.7 million. Only two other counties, Grant and Pepin, saw increases of more than 10% in the former category and no others exceeded the 10% mark in the latter.
"We're seeing a trend in charter fishing businesses hiring more captains," Gonzalez said. She attributed that to the lower cost of hiring a fishing expedition for salmon, trout or walleye in Algoma or Kewaunee compared to locations on the Lake Michigan shore.
The county also saw double-digit increases in percentages of business sales tied to tourism — 11.83%, from $35.9 million to $40.2 million — and state and local tax revenues from tourism — 15.58%, from $2.3 million to $2.6 million.
Both of those increases in percentages ranked second in the state. Two other counties topped the 10% mark in those categories, led by Pepin in business sales at 12.56% and Grant in tax revenues at 17.99%.
Gonzalez said it's not just spending specifically at a festival or recreational event that generates spending by visitors.
"Tourism numbers go beyond just events and festivals," she said. "It's people going to the gas pumps, people at the restaurants, staying at the motels and bed-and-breakfasts, even people stopping at the grocery stores to pick up items they need while they're here, going to the hardware store while they're camping."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County ranks second in state in increased tourism spending for second year in row