Over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to change the way we live. Many people started working from home, vacations have been cancelled, and some businesses have had to close their doors. Another area that COVID-19 has impacted is tourism, which can be devastating economically for small towns and local businesses. 

Effects of COVID-19 on Wisconsin Tourism

According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, tourism supported 202,217 jobs and visitor trips topped 113 million in Wisconsin. But throughout Wisconsin, town and cities have been greatly affected by the major decrease in tourism due to the pandemic. Shops, restaurants, hotels, and more have had to close, or decrease the number of visitors. Travel restriction have meant less out-of-state visitors, and social distancing guidelines have caused the cancellations of events and meetings. According to a report by the U.S. Travel Association, spending in Wisconsin dropped by $1.29 billion compared to 2019 between mid-March and May 2.

Green Bay is one area that has been largely affected by COVID-19 and the loss of tourism, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. The Packers training camp attracts about 90,000 visitors from across the world, and has an economic impact of over $9 million, according to a 2010 study by consulting firm AECOM. Unfortunately, this year the Packers will be holding training camp without fans, and the preseason was just recently canceled which represents another big hit to the local economy - $15 million per game, according to the estimates from the Greater Green Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. In addition to the economic impact of these changes, it also means a loss in tax revenue for the state.

To get further insight into how COVID-19 has impacted tourism in our local communities, we talked to Jason Ring, executive director for the Manitowoc Area Visitor and Convention Bureau, on what they are seeing in that area. According to Jason, there are several significant ways that COVID-19 has affected operations in the Manitowoc area. The Visitor Center services have had to be temporarily suspended and the SS Badger Carferry, which brings in many visitors, has had to limit trips and capacity. A large number of meetings, conventions and events have been cancelled due to social distancing guidelines, including many municipal meetings, concerts, and county fairs, such as the Manitowoc County Fair and Sheboygan County Fair. Because of these cancellations, hotel capacity is also down to 10% in Manitowoc.

How the State is Coping With COVID-19

One way that Wisconsin as a whole is coping with the COVID-19 impact is by promoting social distancing-friendly activities. Wisconsin is home to over 15,000 lakes, as well as many waterfalls, hiking trails, and nature preservations. According to an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, more than 1 million people have purchased Wisconsin fishing licenses this year, which is an increase of 19% from last year. Many parents have also been investing in canoes, kayaks, and backyard playsets to keep their kids entertained during the pandemic. Drive-in movie theaters have seen an increase as well, as a fun social distancing activity. A list of drive-in movie theaters can be found on the Travel Wisconsin website.

Additionally, Wisconsin’s Office of Outdoor Recreation has partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to start the “Get Outside. Stay Safe. Be Well.” Toolkit. This initiative is meant to encourage and educate the community to get outside and recreate safely during COVID-19, and follow health guidelines. You can learn more here.

In Manitowoc, Ring says that many businesses have had to find ways to cope to continue to bring in customers, such as increasing sanitizing, limiting occupancy, and encouraging social distancing and the use of masks. Because of social distancing guidelines, hotels have been extremely flexible about rescheduling so that guests can avoid cancelling, as these events are important to community revenue. Businesses are also welcome to share their information with the Manitowoc Area Visitor and Convention Bureau about whether or not they are open, what kind of traffic they are seeing, and what kinds of safety measures they have in place. A list of which businesses and events are open is kept updated and available here.

Other COVID-19 resources and business lists in our area can be found below.

Moving forward, Manitowoc’s plan is to continue to do what is best for the health and safety of its citizens, as well as visitors. The future is uncertain as of right now, so things will change based on the status of COVID-19, and how people would like to respond to that.

How You Can Help Tourism in Your Communities

There are several ways that people can help their communities and local businesses. People who live in the community can buy from local restaurants and shop local. Because many restaurants have limited seating due to social distancing guidelines, locals should consider ordering food to-go if the option is offered, so that there is more available seating within the restaurant for nonlocal visitors. Local residents should consider encouraging their family and friends to visit and shop locally, as the income from outside visitors has decreased since the start of Coronavirus. It has also been highly encouraged to buy gift certificates from local businesses to be used once more businesses reopen.

The main goal of any community is to keep locals and visitors safe. With added safety measures, such as social distancing, extra sanitizing, and wearing masks, life in our local cities and towns can start to return to normalcy, while remaining safe.

Written by Marisa Adams

Marisa Adams is the Marketing Coordinator for Investors Community Bank. She graduated from Carroll University with her bachelor’s degree in graphic communications and minored in marketing. She started her career with ICB in March 2020.

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