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Another booming summer for tourism in the Northwoods

Katie Thoresen

If you thought it was hard to avoid the crowds this summer, you weren’t alone.

“I would say our summer was probably one of the busiest visually speaking. If you were driving on highway 51 coming North into Minocqua and you looked down the drag, it looked like there was a party going in Minocqua every day. It just never seemed to stop,” said Krystal Westfahl, Executive Director of the Let’s Minocqua Visitor Bureau and Chamber of Commerce.

Based on what she’s seen and room tax numbers, it’s looking like it could be another record for tourism in the area.

Westfahl says tourism has been building fairly consistently over the last 10 years.

“2019 was the best year we’ve ever had. 2020 flatlined. We didn’t lose anybody, but we weren’t necessarily growing. Obviously, we were having a pandemic. But then 2021 just beat all expectations. 2022 is in line to do the same,” said Westfahl.

Much of Northwoods tourism is built on resorts that would draw the same families back year after year and even generation after generation.

Westfahl says the recent growth in tourism has a lot to do with bringing in people from new places that have never been to area before.

While the boom in tourism is great for businesses, it also comes with challenges.

“All of the sort of complications that COVID has brought between supply chain issues, workforce issues, housing issues, all of those things that we’ve been talking about, the sort of negative aspects of all of this. But I do think that generally speaking, especially in a tourism economy such as ours, our people are definitely here for it they’re looking to engage new folks,” said Westfahl.

To balance that pressure, some local businesses are taking an approach that might not have been considered a few years ago.

Long, holiday weekends like this Labor Day weekend typically mean restaurants and tourism-driven businesses are working on over drive.

Which means it might come as a surprise that some of those places choosing to stay closed for the weekend.

Aqualand Ale House in Boulder Junction posted on Facebook it would be closed yesterday and today to give “staff a much well-deserved break after working very hard this summer.”

CT’s Deli in Rhinelander closed early on Friday and stayed close through the weekend.

Westfahl doesn’t think it’s a bad thing.

“We’ve come to realize how important our workforce is to us and how much we really do need to thank them, give them a pat on the back for just weathering this storm. I think everybody’s sort seeing that now. We really need to value that time away, the time with our families,” she said.

Westfahl recommends calling ahead to places to see if they’re open, what their hours are, and make sure they can accommodate your needs.

She does not recommend trusting the open hours for a business listed on google.

Westfahl also asks to give workers a little grace.

“I applaud our businesses to really take that time and make sure our local workforce population is happy and healthy. We need them for years to come. We want people to move here and live here and enjoy all that there is to offer and hopefully they’re not burned out by the end of the summer, and they can do that,” she said.

Westfahl is realistic.

She knows the tourism growth will hit a peak.

The question is whether the Northwoods has already hit it.

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