Madison tourism leaders come into 2022 trying to attract a new type of traveler

“When we saw the results of quarter four, we looked at each other and said, wait a second, this is really working! Our efforts are paying off!”
The numbers are in.
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 10:00 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The numbers are in.

Quarter Four room tax revenue data is in from 2021 and the numbers reflect how the local tourism industry is fairing since the pandemic virtually wiped out all of business back in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After analyzing the data and speaking with industry leaders, it seems most tourism heads are coming into 2022 with a new strategy- attract more leisure travelers.

The indistinguishable chatter of people gathering is a welcomed sound and sight for Hilton Madison Monona Terrace General Manager Derek Morrison.

“I think it’s energizing, I really do,” says Morrison.

On this day people are filling the Monona Terrace Convention center for a statewide tourism conference, one that was virtual last year and canceled back in 2020 due to the pandemic. This packed center means more rooms filled in Morrison’s hotel.

”Anytime they have some sort of event it does positively impact us here at the hotel,” he said. “We’re really starting to see the interest of the business traveler coming back.”

And that’s a sign things are looking up for Madison’s tourism industry.

“Madison, like a lot of large cities, was impacted by the pandemic because we have so many meetings and events here,” explains Rob Gard with Destination Madison.

To make up for cancelations and a loss in millions of dollars in revenue, Gard says the marketing focus shifted from business to leisure travel, and they’ve seen success.

“When we saw the results of quarter four, we looked at each other and said, wait a second, this is really working! Our efforts are paying off! And we realized it has to be leisure [travel] because it is a down time for meetings and events, a little bit of sports going on with UW, but to see that big of a surge you know it’s leisure,” says Gard.

Room tax revenue, the money cities make when people stay in hotels, helps illustrate how hard Madison’s tourism industry was hit during the pandemic and how much it’s come back. Take a look at the numbers from Q4 specifically. And then there are the annual numbers.

Madison Q4

  • 2019- $4,452,565
  • 2020- $967,278
  • 2021- $3,534,950
    • 2021 is still down more than 20 percent of pre pandemic levels.

Madison 2021

  • 2019- $18,929,284
  • 2020- $5,997,175
  • 2021- $12,267,582
    • 2021 is still down more than 35 percent of pre pandemic levels.
Madison 2021 room tax
Madison 2021 room tax(WMTV)

Janesville 2021

  • 2019- $455,002
  • 2020- $290,037
  • 2021- $410,794
    • 2021 is down less than 10 percent of pre pandemic levels.

Even with numbers down, the data doesn’t come as a surprise to Madison tourism experts. The numbers are encouraging to them because they say large meetings and conventions take years to plan.

“It takes 2, 3, 4, 5 years even to plan and pull some of these events off, so it is a long haul to do,” explains Gard.

“It’s really 2023 or 2024 where you’ll see the full recovery of the business traveler, but with that said, everyday we are getting more and more inquiries,” says Morrison.

And there’s a pandemic change that might just stick around, keeping people coming for work and for play. Attracting leisure travelers is a much quicker process than scheduling those big meetings.

“Definitely we are seeing a lot of that leisure again, heavy leisure demand especially when you look at anything to do with outdoor activities, sporting groups and weddings,” recognized Morrison.

Travelers coming for work and for play is a welcomed addition making the future of Madison tourism even stronger.

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