Eau Claire's tourism dollars: cracking our own record

Tom Giffey

Above: Visit Eau Claire's Fun Patrol vehicle gets an astounding 100 high-fives per gallon. (Milage may vary.)
Above: Visit Eau Claire's "Fun Patrol" vehicle gets an astounding 89 high-fives per gallon.
(Milage may vary.)

If you live around here, you already know what a great place the Chippewa Valley is – and Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency, is counting on you to help spread the word. Efforts like the Fun Patrol – which brings its flashing light, spinning wheel, and stuffed dog to 300 events annually – and social media marketing are designed to turn local residents into tourism ambassadors.

These and other undertakings – including new collaborations and continued marketing of the Chippewa Valley as a sports and recreation destination – are having a multimillion-dollar payoff for the region’s economy, Visit Eau Claire executive director Linda John said during a May 6 promotional event for National Travel and Tourism Week.

“It’s very healthy,” John said of the Valley’s tourism economy. “The number we posted for 2013 are the best in the history of tourism in Eau Claire.” In fact, total tourism-related sales in Eau Claire County reached $320 million last year, according to new Department of Tourism statistics. That’s an $11 million – or 3.7 percent – boost from 2012, an increase that closely follows statewide tourism growth: The state total rose 4.3 percent to $17.5 billion. (That’s a lot of trips to Noah’s Ark!) Eau Claire County ranked 15th out of 72 counties in terms of tourism’s overall economic impact.

Eau Claire County’s $320 million total includes $196 million in direct spending by visitors as well as indirect economic activity created when tourism-related businesses spend money and hire new employees, plus an additional $25.5 million in state and local taxes. Tourism also flourished in other local counties, rising 4.7 percent to $124 million in Chippewa County and 4.2 percent to $74 million in Dunn County.

While the Chippewa Valley lacks a single huge tourist draw, it benefits from a plethora of attractions, many of them related to sports, recreation, and the outdoors, John said. The region’s strength as a destination for sports tournaments has continued to grow: Next year, Eau Claire will host the U.S. National Snowshoe Championships as well as a collegiate table tennis championship, the latter the result of a cooperative deal inked last year between Visit Eau Claire and UW-Eau Claire. Such collaborative efforts are also a hallmark of the tourism group’s efforts. “Nobody can do this on their own,” John said. “We’re collaborating with the arts groups. We’re collaborating with the university.”