Sara Meaney

Sara Meaney

Travel has the power to heal and refresh, to reset and rebuild. Each of us likely has a short list of the places we long to visit, as soon and we are able. We hold clear memories of the moments we’ve shared with our favorite people, and the gorgeous scenery that make our most treasured spots in Wisconsin stay with us long after we last experienced them. Our kids are longing for an enthusiastic running jump off the pier. Our partners are dreaming of the taste of that delicious locally grown meal at their favorite family-owned restaurant. And we are all craving a happy place where we can take deep, slow breaths, watch our worries float away with the clouds, and feel our smiles returning and fully intending to stay for a while.

National Travel and Tourism Week is May 3-9, 2020. Each year our state’s tourism industry leverages this week to celebrate its economic contributions to communities and businesses all over the state. In contemplating this year’s approach to a week of industry collaboration and communication I take pause, knowing that it feels somehow out of place to celebrate the successes of the past year while fellow Wisconsinites are suffering due to COVID-19. I also reflect on the need to acknowledge the hardships while also celebrating the bright spots along the way. Signs of hope and sources of inspiration are the fuel we all need to keep us going through dark times. As such, we must shine a light on our collective achievements, while simultaneously paying respect to the struggles and grieving the losses we are all experiencing, because it is our resilience, passion, and ingenuity that will drive our industry to lead our state’s recovery in the months ahead.

This is what tourism and travel gives to all of us: joy and a fresh perspective. And despite not being able to travel the way we’d like to at the moment, we can all still help the businesses that comprise the diverse tourism economy of our state. I encourage you to embrace the #SpiritOfTravel in recognition of the industry’s strength, warmth and resilience. The only certainty through this is that the spirit of travel will prevail. The spirit of travel brings joy and memorable experiences to millions, year after year. Communities benefit from the spirit of travel, which permeates through small businesses, unique landmarks, rich natural resources, and all those who welcome residents and visitors alike with a smile and genuine Wisconsin hospitality.

As residents, we can embrace the spirit of travel by committing to support of local businesses and helping our neighbors, thereby playing a key role in rebuilding our communities—and Wisconsin.

It is through the current scarcity of travel and tourism that we can see most clearly the critical role it plays in our economy. Without question, the economic impact of COVID-19 will be significant. The United States Travel Association projects a $401-$519 billion decline in travel spending in the US this year. That 45% decline in travel spending at the high end of the projection would be nine times larger than the impact of 9/11. In Wisconsin, we’ve already seen a drop in travel spending of more than $1 billion resulting from COVID-19.

In juxtaposition to our work of assessing the damage and plan for the new normal of the future, the latest economic impact numbers for 2019 Wisconsin tourism are in and they tell the story of our biggest year in at least a decade. Wisconsin saw more than $22.2 billion in tourism spending, welcoming 113.2 million visitors who spent $13.7 billion, generating $1.6 billion in tax revenue while supporting 202,217 full and part-time jobs.

We know that 2020 will not look like 2019. But the good news is that on the heels of a record year for Wisconsin travel and tourism, the state has shown itself to be an increasingly sought-after destination, which gives me confidence that we remain on the radar as a preferred destination for visitors later this year and beyond. Because of our ongoing efforts to inspire and equip them with resources to dream of their time in Wisconsin, travelers will no doubt arrive once again, and they’ll savor every moment of their time here with us.

When the time is right, travel will heal us both economically and emotionally. One day, we will again gather with family and friends at our favorite lake, and dine at our favorite restaurant, and attend concerts and festivals. While we wait until it is safe to do so, I encourage you to visit to plan your next trip or choose a small business to support, even from across the state. We hope that you will join us in honoring the Spirit of Travel during National Travel and Tourism Week. Now, more than ever, our tourism economy cannot be taken for granted.

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