Visitors spent more than $79 million in Waupaca County in 2012.
A study released last week by the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce found that the economic impact of tourism in the county had increased by $1.6 million over the prior year.
“Since 2008 when visitor spending, like many segments of the economy, saw a significant downturn, spending has steadily climbed each year,” the report said.
In 2012, tourism-related businesses employed 1,266 people and provided a total labor income of $22 million in Waupaca County.
Approximately $9.7 million in state and local tax revenues were generated by county tourism.
The study estimates that local tourism’s total economic impact reaches $121.6 million. This figure includes tourism’s indirect impact, which measures visitor spending as it flows from hotels, restaurants and shops to their suppliers, and tourism’s induced impact, which measures the wages spent by tourism employees.
An earlier study found that about one-third of all visits in the county occurs in the Waupaca area.
In addition to examining the economic impact of tourism, the 2013 Waupaca Area Destination Assessment surveyed attitudes which both visitors and residents had about the community and why people would want to come here.
The chamber surveyed 207 residents and 189 visitors.
“This is the first time we actually did a formal survey of both visitors and residents,” said Jeff Anderson, tourism director for the Waupaca Chamber.
Anderson noted that when asked what encourages people to visit the Waupaca area, both visitors and residents said local events, lakes and rivers, shopping and dining were among the top draws.
“We also asked what would bring them back,” Anderson said. “They would love to see more of everything: More shopping, more restaurants, more festivals.”
The study noted that while a high percentage of visitors said they were in the area to visit family and friends, residents did not recognize this as a reason to visit.
Residents listed area parks and beaches, the small town feel, recreation, downtown, scenery and the friendliness of other residents as a reason to visit the Waupaca area. Visitors, however, did not usually include these among their reasons for coming to the area.
Assisted by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the study reviewed the area’s “destination assets,” the specific local places, landmarks, events, businesses and recreational activities that draw overnight visitors.
Among Waupaca’s destination assets are Hartman Creek State Park for camping, the River Ridge Trail and the Ice Age Trail for hiking and outdoor recreation, the Chain O’ Lakes and local marinas, Swan Park for tournaments, Clear Water Harbor for rides on the Chief Waupaca, Ding’s Dock and Adventure Outfitters for canoeing, the half-dozen golf courses, the triathlon, festivals such as Strawberry Fest and Arts on the Square, sporting events such as youth hockey and curling, landmarks such as Danes’ Home, the Waupaca Train Depot, Hutchinson House, Red Mill and the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King.
The study also identified some weaknesses. The area needs more lodging, better access to the lakes, more parking, public transportation, more night-life and a department store.
The study concludes with recommendations from Sarah Pischer, a regional tourism specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
Her recommendations included a more consistent and targeted ad campaign, efforts to attract mid-week visitors through small conferences and touring groups, improve access to the Chain O’ Lakes, use the planned reconstruction of Main Street to make aesthetic improvements as well, and review the effectiveness of the area’s directional signage.
“Pursue a trolley to run from Waupaca to the Chain O’ Lakes,” the study recommended. “With the rich history of the electric trolley line transporting visitors from the Waupaca train depot to the Grandview Hotel on the Chain O’ Lakes in the early 1900s, a modern street trolley could provide both a practical mode of public transportation as well as a new attraction to the area.”