A Great Bargain on a Great Lake
When it comes to vacation spending, Milwaukee is the Costco of tourist destinations.
Milwaukee’s tourism economy appears well positioned to weather rising fuel prices and a sagging economy with its unique attractions and low costs for shopping, food and recreation.
“Milwaukee is a value destination,” said Dave Fantle, vice president of VISIT Milwaukee, a marketing agency charged with promoting the Greater Milwaukee area. “Compared to larger cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, and their costs of hotels, restaurants and attractions, Milwaukee offers more bang for the buck.”
In 2007, tourism in the four-county Greater Milwaukee area (Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties) supported more than 64,000 full-time jobs, generated more than $2.5 billion in revenue and added $1.5 billion in wages, according to a report by travel-and-tourism research firm Davidson-Peterson Associates. Shopping, food and recreation account for 80% of dollars spent by visitors, netting $400 million in local and state taxes.
While travelers are being gouged else where, Milwaukee’s amenities and tourist attractions are easy on the wallet. According to the Travel Industry Association, the June 2008 Travel Price Index—the rate of inflation for the cost of travel within the United States—was 8.6% higher than in June 2007. Factored into that figure are higher gas prices—up 33.3% from a year ago—and higher airfares. Lodging, however, has declined slightly.
One solution for penny-pinching travelers is to stay close to home. Rand McNally reported in May that two-thirds of Americans said they would either shorten their summer road trips or cancel them altogether, resulting in a post-petroleum era phenomenon called a “staycation.” Some tourism industry analysts speculate that vacation destinations in urban corridors may be most insulated from rising fuel prices. Washington, D.C., for example, one of the most expensive tourist destinations, benefits from its proximity to cities within a day’s drive.
While it’s too early to tell if Milwaukee’s summer tourist season is a boom or a bust—Summerfest’s 2008 revenues are down 8%, but organizers cited bad weather as the cause—Milwaukee’s tourism business may be insulated by its ongoing investment in tourist attractions.
“We’ve been investing in our product,” said Fantle, pointing to the Harley-Davidson Museum, the upcoming Iron Horse Hotel Potawatomi Bingo Casino, which is being expanded. Then there are the local landmarks such as the Calatrava-designed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Pier Wisconsin, Miller Park and, of course, Lake Michigan, which always draw visitors.