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2022 Tourism in Wisconsin sets new record, Northwoods counties continue to see increases in visitor spending

Katie Thoresen

The tourism industry generated $23.7 billion in total economic impact in Wisconsin in 2022.

That surpasses the previous record set in 2019, according to the state Department of Tourism.

All counties in the Northwoods saw an increase in visitor spending over last year.

Oneida County had one the biggest increases at 9.5% over 2021.

Shocked was the first word that came to mind when Krystal Westfahl saw the tourism spending numbers for 2022.

She’s the President of the Oneida County Tourism Council and President and CEO of the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau.

“Still shocked I guess is the answer. I’ve always known that we’re an incredibly attractive destination and it will be an incredibly attractive destination. I just wasn’t anticipating a 9.5% increase year over year,” said Westhfahl.

Visitors spent $278.5 million dollars in Oneida County last year.

Westfahl says it’s even more impressive when you take into account that businesses are bringing in more visitors, despite not hiring more people.

Tourism employment has stayed at roughly 2,100 jobs in the last two years.

“Our labor is really under a lot of stress because of the tourism increases we’ve been seeing, but they’ve been doing a remarkable job keeping up. I cannot give them enough credit,” said Westfahl. “All the people that have been here working in these tourism jobs, I cannot give them enough credit for the work that they have been doing over these past two or three years where we’ve just seen these huge increases in tourism.”

Westfahl says one of her main jobs is keeping up with marketing the area to new visitors.

She knows eventually visitor spending will plateau but doesn’t want to see it drop.

“The growth isn’t in the 20 percents where we were projecting in the past few years. So it is slowing a bit. But still, a 9.5% growth in spending is pretty big. We haven’t reached that point yet,” said Westfahl.

CountyDirect Visitor Spending (in Millions)Change from 2021

Oneida County also collected $22 million in state and local taxes in 2022, taxes that otherwise would have been paid by Oneida County residents.

“Me as a resident here doesn’t have to pay another $600 in state and local taxes to support all the stuff that’s happening in my local community. The tourists are paying for that. They’re driving more funding into our communities. There making my way of living a little easier as well.”

The Wisconsin Department of Tourism estimates each Wisconsin household would need to pay $620 to maintain the current level of government services generated by tourism spending.

You can view the 2022 Wisconsin Tourism report here.

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