MADISON, Wisconsin — Travelers contributed $16.8 billion to Wisconsin's economy last year, up 5 percent from the year before, according to a state tourism report released Friday.
The Wisconsin Department of Tourism said direct spending on food, lodging, transportation and other services accounted for $10.4 billion. Lodging was the biggest money-maker in 2012, accounting for 26 percent of tourists' spending. Food and beverages came in second at 25 percent.
The report also said tourism supported about 184,000 Wisconsin jobs last year, or 7.8 percent of employment. Gov. Scott Walker proposed increasing funding to promote tourism by 1.4 percent, or about $500,000, over the next two years.
Most tourists in Wisconsin were from the U.S., according to the report. Local tourism officials said many came from the Midwest during spring and fall seasons.
About 95 percent of more than two million tourists who came to Door County last year were from nearby states such as Minnesota and Illinois, said Jack Moneypenny, CEO of the Door County Visitor Bureau.
Most Door County tourists were middle-aged married couples, Moneypenny said, who came for activities such as hiking, sightseeing, performing and visual arts display — or simply walking along the state's longest shoreline of more than 300 miles.
Moneypenny said tourists spent almost $290 million in the county last year, increasing 6.6 percent from 2011 and making it seventh in Wisconsin. He said the bureau is beefing up marketing efforts this year, including plans to run three TV ads in Chicago, Milwaukee and Fox Valley areas, a radio commercial in Madison, and continue sending electronic newsletters.
Only 6 percent of visitors came to Wisconsin from other nations, the report said, but Lake Geneva — a small city in Walworth County — saw an increase in the number of international guests, said the area's commerce chamber president, George Henerly.
Henerly said many international visitors came straight up Lake Geneva with their relatives in Chicago, who referred them to the pure Midwest experience the area can offer, including boating, picnic at the lake, more than 100 boutique restaurants at downtown, and numerous full-service resorts.
"They would park their cars, get a bike, relax a little bit and then ride on the boats." Henerly said.
Still, Hernely said about 90 percent of the one million visitors came from areas within two hours of driving. They brought in $455 million in direct sales to the Walworth County.
Henerly said the county also saw more young visitors, probably due to its proximity to metropolitan areas. He said they plan to upgrade their parking services in downtown and near the lake in addition to focusing on promotions.