Double-Digit Growth Has Made Eau Claire a Top 10 Tourist County

Tom Giffey |

For the first time ever, Eau Claire has cracked the top 10 among Wisconsin counties in tourist spending, with double-digit growth in the volume of dollars pumped into the local economy by visitors in 2017.

Direct spending by visitors to Eau Claire County grew 12.5 percent to $257 million last year, placing the county at No. 10 statewide, according to figures released Friday by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. That growth rate was the third-best in the state, behind only Florence and Kewaunee among Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Statewide, direct visitor spending grew a bit over 3 percent to $12.7 billion.

Tourism spending supported an estimated 4,578 full-time equivalent jobs in Eau Claire County last year, generating $107 million in salaries and $32 million in state and local taxes.

“What these numbers are showing us is that the growth we’ve seen in our downtown, our creative economy, as well as our efforts to bring large meetings and sporting events to the area, is having both a local and a statewide impact,” said Linda John, executive director at Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency. “Last year’s numbers show that we are doing the right things to make our community a destination worth traveling to and I say we keep that momentum going.”

Overall, total tourism-related business sales in Eau Claire County rose 9 percent to $404 million last year.

Tourists also provided healthy infusions to the economies of Chippewa and Dunn counties. Direct visitor spending rose a robust 10.6 percent to $98.4 million in Chippewa County. Jackie Boos, tourism director for Go Chippewa Falls and Chippewa County, credited the growth to a new marketing campaign, area music festivals, last year’s 150th anniversary celebration by Leinenkugel’s, a big lineup of performers at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair, and numerous year-round attractions.

Meanwhile, direct spending by visitors in Dunn County rose about 1 percent to $45.8 million.

In a press release, Gov. Scott Walker declared that Wisconsin’s travel and hospitality industry was “booming.” Here are some key takeaways*:

• The total seven-year growth of tourism activity in the state is $5.8 billion, a nearly 40 percent increase according to Tourism Economics, the research firm for the Department of Tourism.

• Visitor volumes topped 110 million visits, an increase of 17.5 million, compared to 92.5 million seven years ago. This is a 19 percent increase since 2011.

• Traveler spending on recreation, which includes all activities travelers choose to do on vacation, had the fastest growth at 5.5 percent in 2017.

• Tourism directly and indirectly supported 195,255 jobs in Wisconsin’s labor market in 2016.

• The growth of tourism over the last seven years has helped add 23,255 jobs, a 13.5 percent increase.

• Visitors generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes, saving Wisconsin taxpayers $660 per household.