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Less spending by leisure travelers: But decrease offset by business travel gains

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Leisure travelers spent slightly less in Wisconsin last year, a decline that was offset by slight gains in business travel and larger increases in conventions, according to a new study.

Travelers spent an estimated $12.78 billion statewide in 2007, down from $12.83 billion in 2006, according to the annual study released by the state Department of Tourism.

That amounts to a 0.4% decrease.  The decline would have been steeper if not for increases in business travel and Wisconsin’s convention activity, according to the study, which was conducted for the department by Davidson-Peterson Associates, a marketing research firm based in Kennebunk, Maine.

Business travel spending totaled $2.43 billion, up 0.4% from $2.42 billion. Travel expenses related to meetings and conventions totaled $1.36 billion, up 6.3% from $1.28 billion. New and improved convention centers, lodging properties and attractions have helped drive the increases in business and convention-related travel spending, Tourism Secretary Kelli Trumble said in a statement.

However, spending by vacationers — which accounts for 70% of Wisconsin travel expenditures — declined 1.4%, to $8.99 billion from $9.12 billion. (The breakdown of 2006 spending doesn’t add up to $12.83 billion because of rounding).

Last year’s slight decline in overall travel spending follows a 7.3% increase in 2006, which was the largest statewide increase since 2000.

The annual study measures estimated spending by vacationers and business travelers on hotel rooms, meals, gasoline and other items.

A slowing economy began affecting travel nationwide by last fall, said David Loeb, a hotel industry analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co.

He said the travel slowdown has worsened during 2008.

“We’re seeing moderating price increases and a lot less (hotel) occupancy,” Loeb said.

Trumble said the state’s new brand, “Originality Rules,” will boost Wisconsin’s tourism industry.

“Strong brands deliver higher returns, attract more loyal customers and provide a more predictable revenue stream,” Trumble said.

Milwaukee County had the highest level of travel spending, with $1.68 billion, a 1% increase.

Also topping the $1 billion mark were Dane and Sauk counties, with estimated traveler expenditures of $1.18 billion and $1.05 billion, respectively.

Rounding out the state’s top 10 counties in traveler spending were Waukesha, Brown, Walworth, Door, Outagamie, Sheboygan and Vilas counties.

The Milwaukee metro area, which includes Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties, had travel spending of $2.579 billion, virtually unchanged from last year’s estimate of $2.578 billion.

The July opening of Harley-Davidson Museum, this year’s completion of the Potawatomi Bingo Casino expansion, and other new attractions will help draw more visitors to Milwaukee, Doug Neilson, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee, said in a statement.

To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jsonline.com. Copyright (c) 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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