Marathon County Tourism in Top 10

Marathon County capitalized on scores of new sporting events and other initiatives in 2012 to vault two places onto the list of top 10 tourist destinations in the state, and local leaders aren’t satisfied with being No. 9.

Tourism leaders in the Wausau area gathered at Dale’s Weston Lanes for the 2013 Tourism Summit to discuss new projects and how best to build upon last year’s success and continue to increase revenues in the future.

Marathon County ranked ninth in the state in tourism dollars in 2012, jumping past Racine and Winnebago counties from the 2011 rankings. The county collected $217.2 million in direct visitor spending in 2012, a nearly 6 percent increase over 2011, according to statistics released last week by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

The numbers document a dramatic change in the county’s efforts to be seen as a hot spot for visitors; in 2000, Marathon County ranked 17th of 72 counties in tourist spending.

The state overall did well as a tourist destination in 2012, with revenue up from $16 billion in 2011 to $16.5 billion last year. Wisconsin attracted nearly 97 million visitors who generated roughly $1.3 billion in state and local taxes in 2012, according to the Department of Tourism statistics.

Visitor spending directly and indirectly supported more than 4,000 jobs in Marathon County in 2012, or about 6 percent of Marathon County’s roughly 66,800 jobs, according to employment statistics from the Department of Workforce Development.

Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Darien Schaefer said Tuesday that the county had its best summer season ever in 2012, in terms of visitor spending and hotel-room tax collection. He said the consistent increase in visitor spending is a result of attractions and facilities investing in Wausau as a destination.

“The improvements that our attractions are making, whether it’s in a hotel or a restaurant, keep bringing people back year after year,” he said.

Tuesday’s summit was in part a celebration of 2012’s success, but also a chance for tourism promoters to unveil a host of new plans and promotions intended to keep visitors coming and tax dollars flowing:

  • Wausau Area Events, 316 Scott St., led off the summit with an announcement that it will change its name to Wausau Events, in part to take advantage of the acronym WE, and unveil a new logo and website in the next couple of weeks. Executive Director Kari Rasmussen also said that the organization hopes to make WinterFest, a festival in downtown Wausau in February that includes ice golf, sweet treats and a snow slide, into a two-day event next year.
  • The National Association of Sports Commissions named the Wausau/Central Wisconsin CVB, 219 Jefferson St., the top visitors bureau with a budget of less than $200,000 in the nation, in part because of the Sports Authority’s work attracting several regional, national and international events to the area. The Sports Authority estimates that the people who attended those events spent roughly $14.5 million for food, lodging, souvenirs and more in 2012, Director of Sales Richard Barrett said. He projected that Sports Authority-sponsored events could bring in up to $15 million in 2013 and $16 million in 2014.
  • The Wausau/Central Wisconsin CVB will release in July a new annual publication called “The Dish” that will highlight local dining and nightlife options in the Wausau metro area. The publication will be a combination of editorial content, advertising and restaurant listings.
  • The Robert W. Monk Gardens, 1800 N. First Ave., will finish its wildflower woods and memory garden this summer, as well as start work on water and sewer lines that will allow the gardens to host events; and on a meditation garden in the east side of the property. Monk Gardens Marketing Coordinator Jim Force said botanical gardens have “a lot of appeal” and, once finished, could add to Wausau’s potential to become a cultural destination in central Wisconsin.
  • Bull Falls Brewery will sell a new type of beer this summer and will start offering brewery tours. The brewery, at 901 E. Thomas St., is in the middle of an 8,000-square-foot expansion that will more than double the size of the facility. Co-owner Mike Zamzow said he expects to brew as much as 8,000 barrels a year, up from the current 1,000 barrels a year.
  • Woodson Art Museum, 700 N. 12th St., will install several stylized canine and feline statues in its sculpture garden, which currently has statues of several other animals including cranes, a hippo and panthers.
  • The Lake Wausau Association is in the process of remapping the 1,918-acre lake using sonar and other depth-recording tools. The lake hasn’t been mapped in such detail since 1973, Board Vice President Nathan Birchler said. He expects the results to be out in mid-June.
  • The Marathon County Historical Society, 410 McIndoe St., will open Fridays starting after Memorial Day. The Historical Society currently is closed Mondays and Fridays.

Several local organizations and businesses that are making millions of dollars of improvements — a $2.7 million upgrade Wisconsin Woodchucks owner Mark Macdonald is planning for Athletic Park; the nearly $4 million, state-of-the-art curling facility now open in Wausau; and the renovation of the Holtz-Krause landfill into a sports complex — will help the CVB and Sports Authority keep bringing events to Marathon County, Schaefer said.

“Those are some things that we’re starting to see roll that will continue strong partnerships that will continue to pay dividends down the road,” Schaefer said.

Source: Wausau Daily Herald

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