As nature vacations have become more popular, Marathon County saw a 21% increase in tourism spending in 2021 over the previous year.
According to economic impact data from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the county brought in a total of $403 million in tourism dollars, which includes money from sales, jobs, revenue, products and services. and taxes.
Portage and Wood counties saw similar increases in tourism spending, with $217 million in tourism dollars in Portage County and $197 million for Wood County in 2021, according to the Department of Tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism has compiled survey data, employment data, accommodation performance data, aviation data and credit card information. Overall, Wisconsin saw nearly $21 billion in total business sales in 2021, up from $17 billion in 2020.
Tim White, executive director of the Wausau and Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said outdoor recreation has always been a reason people visit Marathon County. There’s Granite Peak, Rib Mountain State Park, plenty of water for fishing, boating and swimming, and a host of biking trails.
“Even during the pandemic, it was a strong tourist genre,” White said.
White said Wausau acts as a “base camp” for central Wisconsin because it’s close to parks but still a city. It offers hotels and Airbnbs, as well as a variety of restaurants.
For those not looking for an outdoor vacation, Wausau has several art museums, the Grand Theater and many community events.
Wausau offers affordable city vacations and it’s not as expensive as the Twin Cities or Chicago, White said.
After many vacations were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people were traveling more last year because it felt safer to do so as virus cases declined in the spring and summer 2021.
“People couldn’t wait to get out,” White said. “(People were going to) make plans, and they weren’t going to change them.”
Travelers typically plan ahead by arranging their trips about five months in advance, White said. It meant people felt more confident that their holidays would not be canceled as they looked for new places to travel.
Marathon County tourists most often come from Milwaukee and Madison, but also from the Twin Cities, Green Bay and Chicago, White said.
Over the next few seasons, Marathon County hopes to continue to see increased nature-based tourism. The Convention & Visitors Bureau markets to city dwellers and tries to show what they have to offer.
White said he wanted people to start thinking of the Marathon County area as “up north.”
“I think people have fallen in love with the outdoors again,” White said. “We’ve seen (outdoor recreation) continue to grow at a steady pace.”
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