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Janesville tourism metric nears pre-pandemic level; Madison, not so much

Madison’s room tax revenue is still 20-percent less than pre-pandemic levels in Q3.
Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 10:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2021 at 10:27 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin’s tourism industry is just now seeing money roll in from the most lucrative quarter of the year, quarter three. The most recent room tax revenues in Madison and Janesville are the strongest numbers in two years.

It’s a big deal for the south-central Wisconsin hospitality industry since the COVID-19 pandemic devastated many cities last year. Cities count on the late summer to early fall months to bring in big bucks because in the Midwest. It’s an ideal time to showcase the great outdoors and get in that last family trip before school starts. The numbers now are showing signs of a full pandemic comeback.

“Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors” is the slogan of Janesville. And by the looks of one fishing spot, it’s a fitting name for the Rock County city. Late summer to early fall isn’t just prime time for recreation. The period from July to September, quarter three, is also good for city tourism finances.

“We’ve got warm weather, you’ve got skiers on the water and great outside things to do, and a lot of our fall events. So it really is a strong time for us, and we’ve seen that in 2021,” says the Director of the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Christine Rebout.

Rebout says it’s a welcome trend after COVID-19 devastated the tourism industry last year.

Janesville Room Tax Q3
Janesville Room Tax Q3(WMTV)

You can see the pandemic hit when you look at Janesville’s room tax revenue, the money that cities make from hotel visits. From 2019 to 2020, revenue fell from $141,050 to just $87,000. But when you look at Q3 numbers from 2021, numbers are less than one-percent away from pre-pandemic levels.

But don’t call it a comeback just yet. Rebout says it’s going to be a challenge keeping numbers trending up when Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors meets Midwest winter, and the tourism market changes.

“Traditionally winter months are corporate and business travel,” Rebout said. “We rely on meetings and corporate events to boost that tourism product in the winter months, and we’re not sure when those will be ready to come back to that full degree.”

Overtime, numbers NBC15 Investigates analyzed show Madison tourism dollars are undergoing a pandemic-caused lag in business travel, too.

“That is a huge driver for Madison and throughout the country and the world that travel is not expected to rebound to 2019 numbers until 2024 (or) 2025. So we have a long road for that recovery,” says Rob Gard with Destination Madison.

Madison room tax Q3
Madison room tax Q3

NBC15 Investigates crunched the numbers. Room tax data also shows Madison had a strong showing for revenues in quarter three, numbers trending in the right direction, but still almost 20% less than pre-pandemic dollars.

“When we plan a big event or meeting here, that’s sometimes a 2 or 3 year process in getting that event here,” Gard said. “So just because we have these great vaccination rates didn’t mean we could just flip around and invite 2,000 people here for their annual meeting.”

Back in Janesville, tourism leaders are changing their quarter four marketing strategy from focusing on business travelers to those coming for fun.

“It will be important this winter, maybe more so than others, to really focus on those leisure travelers, really bringing them in for maybe its holiday events, Christmas events, shopping opportunities,” Rebout said. “So hopefully we get a little snow to bring them in for cross country skiing.”

They’re hoping Old Man Winter is only able to freeze up this fishing spot, not tourism finances.

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