Wisconsin tourism industry generates $21.6 billion in 2018

A Paddle Boat travels down the scenic St. Croix River. The St. Croix River borders Minnesota and Wisconsin.

MADISON — Wisconsin’s tourism industry generated $21.6 billion last year.

That’s according to a new report from the state Department of Tourism. The report says visitor spending rose nearly 5 percent in 2018 to $13.3 billion. Tourism brought in $1.2 billion in federal taxes, $879 million in state taxes and $703 million in local taxes.

Most of the growth is tied to recreational activities.

Department of Tourism spokeswoman Kristina LeVan noted several large events drew visitors to the state last year, including Milwaukee Brewers playoff games, the CrossFit Games in Madison and Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee.

Tourism data for southeast Wisconsin

VISIT Milwaukee released on Monday, May 6 final data from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism indicating strong growth in the tourism market for 2018. The data continues to show that the Greater Milwaukee area is the state’s largest tourism market, accounting for 26 percent of total tourism economic impact to the state.

In Milwaukee County:

  • Total business sales related to tourism were estimated at $3.7 billion, an increase of 5.2 percent over 2017.
  • Direct visitor spending increased by $115 million to surpass $2.1 billion in 2018 – an increase of nearly $10 million per month. Visitor spending growth accelerated to 5.8 percent, from 3.1 percent in 2017. Spending growth was led by increases in retail and recreational spending, while spending on lodging reached $385 million, increasing 4.9 percent.
  • Tourism supported 32,921 full-time jobs, up 2.2 percent over 2017. Without tourism jobs, Milwaukee County’s unemployment rate for 2018 would have been three times higher.
  • Total labor income from tourism was $1.17 billion, an increase of 3.7 percent over 2017.
  • State and local tax revenue generated by tourism was $246 million, up 3.6 percent over 2017. In the absence of the state and local taxes generated by tourism, each Milwaukee County household would need to pay an additional $645 to maintain the current level of government services.

In the Greater Milwaukee (four-county) area:

  • Total business sales related to tourism were estimated at $5.7 billion
  • Direct visitor spending in 2018 totaled $3.2 billion
  • Tourism supported 52,357 full-time jobs
  • Total labor income from tourism was $1.72 billion
  • State and local tax revenue generated by tourism was $372 million

The numbers are estimates from The Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin, an annual tourism impact study commissioned by the state and conducted by Tourism Economics and released by Travel Wisconsin in early May to celebrate National Travel & Tourism Week.

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