One for the Record Books: E.C. Tourism Leader Says 2022 Could Top 2021 Peak
tourism in the Valley hit a surprise record last year
After a surprising – and record-breaking – year in 2021, the upcoming tourist season could be the most lucrative yet for Eau Claire, predicts Benny Anderson, executive director of Visit Eau Claire.
Based on current trends, aggressive marketing, and the draw of Eau Claire’s events and attractions, Anderson is bullish on what 2022 will bring for the local tourism economy. “By all means I’m absolutely looking to destroy it,” Anderson said of the 2021 record.
Perhaps the most vital metric for local tourism is hotel room tax receipts: Visitors to Eau Claire pay an 8% tax on their hotel bills; these funds go in part to Visit Eau Claire to help attract future visitors.
Leisure (travel) has been the thing that’s really been popping off, as well as sports, and those are the two things that we are really strong in.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VISIT EAU CLAIRE
The City of Eau Claire set a record in 2019 by collecting just over $2 million in room taxes. Tax collections plunged as visitors stayed home in 2020 during the worst of the pandemic, with room tax receipts falling to $1.13 million.
With that in mind, Visit Eau Claire set itself a very conservative budget for 2021. And while room taxes continued to lag in early 2021, they soon shot skyward. During the summer, they more than doubled monthly totals from the previous year, Anderson noted. When all was said and done, the city collected $2.12 million in room taxes last year, an 87% increase from 2020 and 5% above the previous record, set in 2019.
Anderson said the health of Eau Claire’s tourism economy can be traced to a variety of factors.
“A lot of it comes down to marketing,” he said, explaining that Visit Eau Claire invested in campaigns via Google and Facebook last year. The tourism agency’s website traffic doubled between 2019 and 2021 to just under half a million last year, Anderson said, and he’s confident Visit Eau Claire can attract 1 million website visitors this year. Ultimately, that should translate into real-life visitors as well, as music festivals such as Country Jam and Blue Ox thrive and other attractions and events bounce back as well.
And it’s the strength of those music festivals – as well as new events, such as Farm Technology Days, which was held last July – that helped draw visitors to town, Anderson said.
Furthermore, in this case Eau Claire benefited from something it doesn’t have: a convention center. While cities such as Madison, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin Dells struggled with lost visitor revenue when the pandemic forced the cancellation of many conventions, Eau Claire never depended on such visitors in the first place, Anderson said.
“Leisure (travel) has been the thing that’s really been popping off, as well as sports, and those are the two things that we are really strong in,” he said.
Ultimately, Anderson said, Eau Claire’s success depended on the collaboration of a large number of partners, from the tavern league to the health department, to ensure the city could safely attract visitors.
“We’ve been planning for the comeback since the setback,” he said.
Learn more about Visit Eau Claire and what’s going on in Eau Claire at visiteauclaire.com.