Agency Primer by IRG:
Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism
Tourism is a major industry in Wisconsin. In 2021, the Department 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.
The Department of Tourism is responsible for coordinating state government support of the tourism industry. 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 of Natural Resources initially had responsibility for promoting recreational activities. In 1975 the Division of Tourism was created in the Department of Business Development. The Division was then transferred to the Department of Development when it was created through the merger of the Departments of Business Development and Department of Local Affairs and Development. The modern Department of Tourism was created on January 1, 1996 following the passage of the 1995 State Budget.
The Department has 8 Travel Wisconsin Welcoming Centers:
- Kenosha – Kenosha Area Convention & Visitor Bureau
- La Crosse – La Crosse Area Convention & Visitor Bureau
- Marinette – City of Marinette
- Menomonie – Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie and Hudson COCs
- Platteville – Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce (COC)
- Prairie du Chien – Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce
- Beloit – Visit Beloit
- Superior – Superior and Douglas County Area Chamber of Commerce
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