Agency 101: Department of Tourism

Sep 28, 2022 | Administration

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State Agency Fast Facts: 

The Department of Tourism is responsible for coordinating state government support of the tourism industry and promotion of Wisconsin as a destination for travelers. It conducts advertising campaigns to increase tourism, provides technical assistance to the business community and awards grants to cultural, entertainment, tourism related organizations, events, and local governments.

  • The majority of the Department’s budget is spent on tourism promotion through advertisements in print, television, billboard, and on the internet.
  • The Department also funds Travel Wisconsin Welcome Centers at rest stops on major highways near the state’s borders.
  • The Department’s annual budget is $34 million and it has 34 employees.

Did you know?

Tourism is a major industry in Wisconsin. In 2021, the Department of Tourism reported that the total economic impact of tourism was $20.8 billion, supports 169,700 jobs and generates $1.4 billion in state and local taxes. Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive disruption and losses for the tourism economy in 2020, the industry has recovered, with 2021 tourism direct spending expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

Reform History:

Governor Walker’s first budget recognized the value of a strong tourism industry to growing Wisconsin’s economy and increased tourism marketing funding by $2.3 million per year over the previous budget, from $9.9 million to $12.3 million per year. This level of funding was maintained throughout the Walker Administration and continued under Governor Evers.

Keep an Eye on:

Wisconsin’s tourism industry is facing worker shortages similar to many industries across the state. A feature of the tourism industry is the use of foreign student workers on short term J-1 visas. Covid-19 travel restrictions significantly reduced the ability of foreign students to enter the country. By March 2022, approximately 2,600 applications had been submitted to the State Department for J-1 visas for workers in the Wisconsin Dells.

Tourism Grants:

In Fiscal Year 2022, the Department awarded 92 grants, totaling $1,510,000!

  • Joint Effort Marketing Grant – 37 individual grants for a total of $784,809.
  • Destination Marketing Grant – 21 individual grants for a total of $345,191.
  • Tourist Information Center Grant – 20 individual grants for a total of $160,000.
  • Ready, Set, Go! Sports Marketing Grant – 7 individual grants for a total of $102,762.
  • Meetings Mean Business Marketing Grant – 7 individual grants for a total of $117,238.

IRG Wants to Know:

If you were in charge for a day, what reforms would you make to the UW? Email Alex Ignatowski, IRG’s Director of State Budget and Government Reform, at AI@reforminggovernment.org.