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Visitors spending in the Northwoods in 2021 tops record-setting 2019


The Wisconsin Department of Tourism is touting a 7 percent increase in tourism spending in 2021 compared to 2020.

Every single county saw an increase in the amount of money visitors were spending.

But it’s an even more impressive feat for Northwoods counties where visitors not only outspent 2020, but 2019, which was a record-setting year.

“We’re full almost every single weekend,” said Tamra Anderson is the General Manager of the Waters of Minocqua.

She says business picked up after restrictions loosened during the pandemic and it hasn’t slowed down.

“We had a really good year in 2021. We were a little bit nervous about it kind of coming out of COVID, but we saw really good numbers,” said Anderson. “We saw a lot of travelers. I think people are maybe not travelling as far so they’re heading to the Northwoods to spend their vacation and their time off.”

Waters of Minocqua is far from the only the businesses to see the increase of visitors.

In 2021, tourism generated nearly $21 billion in total economic impact in Wisconsin.

Direct visitor spending in Northwoods counties was up anywhere from 16 to 22 percent as compared to 2020.

Those figures get even more impressive when you compare them to 2019 numbers. While statewide, 2021 numbers are down slightly from 2019, that’s not the case for Northwoods counties.

In 2019, visitors spent more than $241 million in Oneida County. In 2021, they spent $254 million.

Vilas, Lincoln, and Iron counties all saw visitor spending increase from pre-pandemic numbers.

“The Northwoods is doing extremely well. We were extremely lucky during this whole pandemic and everything else that was going on. We were very fortunate to be where we are,” said Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Krystal Westfahl.

She says two major factors helped set the Northwoods up for success.

One is the general nature of the region set it up as a good place to social distance during the pandemic.

The other factor is the amount of time and money that went into marketing the Northwoods the last several years.

“All the stars aligned for us. We are very, very proud of how well those numbers really showed for us,” said Westfahl.

Looking to the future, one of the biggest challenges for Westfahl will be keeping those visitor numbers up.

“As a marketing organization, our job really is to keep that message strong so that when the plateau happens, when the decrease eventually comes, cause we all know it’s going to come at some point, that our messaging is still strong to make people still curious and still want to come to the Northwoods,” she said.

And while the high number of visitors is a boon to local businesses they’ve got challenges of their own.

For Anderson at Waters of Minocqua it’s been hiring enough staff.

“We don’t always get to offer amenities we have just because we don’t have all the staff we typically would see,” said Anderson.

Some good news is that Anderson says they were able to get some overseas workers on J1 visas again.

And they’ll definitely be needed as she looks towards the future.

“We’re busy. I think for July we’re almost all sold out for the majority of July. I know every weekend in August we’re sold out. I think we’ll probably break last year’s numbers,” said Anderson.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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