There are very few scientific ways we can measure how visitors see our area and how much they are coming to visit us. Regularly we have used the anecdotal approach and checked out the kayak landings, parking lots of our dining businesses, and the area park locations for those out-of-state license plates. We also like to simply talk to our visitors and learn more about why they are visiting. However, that is a rough way to get a feel for the level of visitors but without comparing any hard numbers of dollars spent by visitors we truly can't measure the effectiveness of our efforts.
Fortunately, Travel Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue share with us each year a report of the dollars spent in "Direct Tourism Spending" that measures hospitality-related business dollars. Through a matrix they use, which doesn't change from year to year, they share with us an indicator of the strength of visitor spending throughout Wisconsin and the Richland area.
The most recent report delivered two weeks ago held some interesting news for our area. Probably the biggest and most positive news, in the Richland area Direct Tourism Spending has recovered and exceeded the same mark in 2019! To understand what that means, 2019 in the Richland Area was the highest level of visitor spending in the history of tracking these figures at $22.1 Million for the year 2019. When COVID hit and events were canceled or postponed that same direct visitor spending dropped to $18.1 Million.
However, one year later after all of 2021, direct visitor spending increased to $22.2 Million recovering that loss and exceeding the highest dollar amount spent by visitors historically in Richland County. While this may not seem to be a particularly high mark to achieve, the State of Wisconsin is still down 5.9% in its return to 2019 levels of direct visitor spending. If you would like to view these numbers for your self you may do so by hitting this link, then scroll down to the "County by County Spreadsheet" https://www.industry.travelwisconsin.com/research/economic-impact/
There are two primary reasons there are 37 other counties in Wisconsin that by the end of 2021 had not returned to their pre-pandemic levels but Richland County had.
In our area, we are home to many innovators! The owners at Starlite 14 Drive-in took many steps to utilize their outdoor spaces in new ways. Ridge and Valley Tours began to utilize a Kawasaki Mule to conduct tours instead of a traditional bus and found visitors preferred that unique experience. Driftless Music Gardens was truly innovative with their "Drive-in Concert Series". In 2021, Driftless Music Gardens was one of the few places you could enjoy live music in the country, and that isn't an exaggeration. There are more examples right here in our area of businesses who had to pivot to stay relevant with their business, but because they did so they not only survived but have been able to grow during a time others are still in recovery mode.
Richland Center tourism has developed and is growing a marketing campaign that brings the images and people of Richland County to those potential visitors who may never have heard of our area previously. Through our social media and digital billboard campaign, we are reaching those searching for the quiet and relaxing scenery or our area that is so different from the chaos and noise of their cities. Routinely visitors to our area comment to us how relaxing our area is and how it is a de-stressor that makes them sad when they leave.
Through the innovation of our tourism-related businesses and our marketing efforts to get on the list of visiting options, we have been able to achieve something over half of the counties in Wisconsin have not been able to achieve. We have recovered all of the highest levels of visitor spending of 2019 in Richland County and now continue to achieve higher levels. If you read this and have never visited us we challenge you to come check us out and Discover it Here!