"The number one reason people travel is fun," asserted Wisconsin Department of Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett at the Chamber's Eggs & Issues breakfast on Friday, July 20, at the Lakely, attended by 75 local business and community leaders.
Upon first becoming Tourism Secretary seven years ago, Klett said her first priority was to get away from just having slogans, but to answer the question, "how can we communicate fun?" in promoting travel to the state. A little bit of serendipity brought her to Hollywood producer David Zucker, best known for the "Airplane" movie franchise and a native of Wisconsin. That contact led to the first in a series of videos produced by the Zucker brothers, "Symphony Snowball Fight:"
Introduced by Volume One Publisher Nick Meyer, who also serves on the Chamber's Board of Directors and is one of the owners of the Oxbow Hotel, Klett's presentation could itself be termed "fun" given her unique sense of humor and enthusiasm for Wisconsin.
But more than just "fun," the state's investment in tourism marketing over the past seven years has led to a $5.8 billion increase in tourism spending in the state, up 20% to a level of $20.6 billion annually, employing over 195,000 people.
"The cool thing about tourism is that there's a halo effect," said Klett. When people have fun here, "we know they're coming back, and the more they do that, the more apt they are to get a job here, retire, etc." The Secretary also noted that hers is the state's smallest cabinet level department, with just 24 employees.
Creative approach multiplies itself in free media exposure
The state's innovative commercials with the Zucker's and other recent themes have also managed to garner extensive free news coverage, termed "earned media" in the business, in the tens of millions of dollars. One of the most popular was this commercial with former Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a Kansas native:
One of the state's latest theme's provides a Wisconsin twist on the public's growing interest in culinary experiences, the Wisconsin Supper Club. Not only did the following commercial generate over 1.4 million views in its first month, but an online poll to name the state's best supper club generated more than 400,000 votes, with a significant number from out of state.
"Our state has it all. I really feel sorry for other states," said Klett, perhaps tongue-in-cheek (but not really!). She pointed out the great things happening in Eau Claire, and also suggested she would like to come back and talk about the Wisconsin Arts Board, another part of her department which nurtures creativity in the state in ways that are manifesting themselves locally.
At the conclusion of the breakfast, Cami Johnson, Services Manager at Visit Eau Claire, provided a local update, incuding news of a record year in tourism here in 2017. Driven by a single-year 12.5% increase in spending, Eau Claire rose from number 14 to number 10 in the state's ranking for most tourism spending. Tourism spending in Eau Claire topped $257 million last year, the highest ever.
This fall's opening of The Pablo Center at the Confluence will bring with it a new 3,000 square foot downtown Visitor Center, which "will not be your run-of-the-mill center with a bunch of brochures," said Johnson. There will be stage for occasional music, garage doors that open up, and interactive displays within the center. It will be located at the corner of Graham and Gibson streets. Visit Eau Claire will also move its offices into the building.
Johnson also detailed the free media the area has garnered recently, building upon the image created by Wisconsin overall, and additionally fueled by a Department of Tourism-sponsored media tour that visited Eau Claire last year. So far, positive stories about the region have appeared in USA Today, Better Homes & Gardens, the Huffington Post and the Star-Tribune.
Special thanks to our Business Advocacy sponsors, who make the Eggs & Issues series possible: Miron Construction, Xcel Energy, Banbury Place/Cigan Properties and Eau Claire Energy Cooperative.
Some photos provided by Visit Eau Claire
Posted by: Scott Rogers, Governmental Affairs & Workforce Director