Greater Milwaukee area helps deliver statewide record year for tourism, accounting for more than 25% of total tourism impact in Wisconsin


Riding a wave of increased awareness and marquee events and driven by leisure and convention business, the Greater Milwaukee area set an all-time tourism record with a $6.018 billion economic impact in 2022, according to new data from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Direct visitor spending in Milwaukee County alone grew 23% year over year and contributed $2.192 billion to the local economy.

“This good news comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the Milwaukee County region. We’ve become a destination for tourism, conventions, sporting events, and more. When people visit Milwaukee and spend time in our County Parks, visiting our museums, eating in our restaurants, and drinking in our breweries, they make plans for a return visit!” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. “This is just the start of what is to come in our region. The lakefront area alone is taking on major upgrades with developments like The Couture set to open soon and serve as the eastern terminus for the MCTS Connect 1 Bus Rapid Transit Line connecting residents and visitors alike to the entire county. The best is yet to come for Milwaukee tourism.”

Thanks to the city's largest-ever cruise season, growing sports tourism, and a robust lineup of festivals, Milwaukee’s continued success helped drive Wisconsin to a record year for statewide tourism in 2022. As Wisconsin’s largest tourism market, the Greater Milwaukee area accounts for 25.4% of total tourism economic impact to the state.

“Milwaukee is on a very positive trajectory. As more people enjoy all we have to offer, they are spreading the word that our city is a great destination,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said. “We are definitely seeing that with the growing numbers of Great Lakes cruising passengers who are enthusiastic about Milwaukee as a port of call.”

Investing in destination marketing efforts through VISIT Milwaukee continues to provide significant, tangible returns for the region. Direct visitor spending in 2022 totaled $3.315 billion in the four-county region with $2.192 billion in Milwaukee County alone – a significant boost for our community, and the businesses and employees that call Milwaukee home. Direct visitor spending represents the dollars that flow from directly from a visitor’s wallet into a Milwaukee business.

“We had a record-setting year in 2022, and 2023 is shaping up to be even better,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee. “At VISIT Milwaukee, we’re tirelessly working with partners to maximize awareness of Milwaukee and all the wonderful things we have brewing here. With an expanded Baird Center getting closer to completion every day and with all of the major events on the horizon in 2024, I’m hopeful this record won’t last long.”

The four-county tourism industry’s 2022 economic impact beat the previous record of $5.930 billion set in 2019 just before the pandemic. These estimates are from The Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin, an annual tourism impact study commissioned by the state and conducted by Tourism Economics.

Last year, Milwaukee was named host of the 2024 Republican National Convention, earned recognition as one of National Geographic’s 25 best places to travel in the world and made the New York Times’ “52 Places for a Changed World” list. Along with established favorites like Summerfest, Wisconsin State Fair, and a long list of can’t-miss outdoor festivals, Milwaukee hosted everything from high-profile concerts to the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

And Milwaukee set a tourism record despite continued challenges: Home to a thriving business community, Milwaukee has traditionally been more dependent on business travel than other Wisconsin cities, and business travel is the main segment of the travel industry that has yet to fully rebound from the pandemic. A recent report on national business travel trends from Deloitte forecasts that a near-full recovery to 2019 levels of corporate spending on business travel appears possible by late 2024.

“The record we set in 2022 is even more encouraging when you consider that it happened without a robust rebound in business travel, and we have reason to believe that sector is also coming back,” Williams-Smith said.

The region’s full post-pandemic recovery represented a 15% gain over 2021 when the four-county region experienced a $5.233 billion economic impact from tourism. Milwaukee (16.7%), Waukesha (12%), Ozaukee (9.9%) and Washington (12.8%) counties all saw significant year-over-year growth.

According to 2022 data from Tourism Economics, a typical Milwaukee visitor stays 1.6 days, 70.5% of visitors stay overnight and 36.8% are repeat trips. The majority (54%) of visitors traveled between 50 and 199 miles to Milwaukee, and the most common place of origin for visitors is metropolitan Chicago (16.5%).

In 2022 in Milwaukee County:

  • Direct visitor spending totaled $2.192 billion – up 23.5% from 2021
  • Tourism supported 26,673 full-time jobs – up 6.2% from 2021
  • Labor Income from tourism totaled $1.312 billion – up 19.2% from 2021
  • State and local taxes generated from tourism totaled $216.6 million – up 15% from 2021
  • Total business sales because of tourism totaled $3.914 billion – up 16.7% from 2021

In the four-county Greater Milwaukee area:

  • Direct visitor spending totaled $3.315 billion - up 20.5% from 2021
  • Tourism supported 43,189 full-time jobs - up 4% from 2021
  • Labor income from tourism totaled $1.944 billion - up 16% from 2021
  • State and local taxes generated from tourism totaled $332.2 million -  up 12.2% from 2021
  • Total business sales because of tourism in the Greater Milwaukee area totaled $6.018 billion – up 15% from 2021

Top 10 visitor origin states in 2022:

  • Wisconsin       32.4%
  • Illinois              20.4%
  • Iowa                4.2%
  • Minnesota       3.9%
  • Indiana            3.6%
  • Florida             3.3%
  • Michigan         3.2%
  • Texas              3.2%
  • Missouri           3.1%
  • Ohio                2.1%

Top 10 visitor origin metropolitan areas in 2022:

  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI    16.5%
  • Madison, WI                                        6.7%
  • Wisconsin non-metropolitan area       3.9%
  • Green Bay, WI                                    3.5%
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN         3.2%
  • Appleton, WI                                       3.0%
  • Oshkosh-Neenah, WI                         2.6%
  • Fond du Lac, WI                                 1.9%
  • St. Louis, MO-IL                                 1.8%
  • Janesville-Beloit, WI                           1.8%

Additional data from the Tourism Economics impact study, including a county-by-county breakdown, can be accessed here.

VISIT Milwaukee will celebrate the growth in tourism and all those who make tourism happen at its Annual Meeting on June 14 at 3 p.m. at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on the Summerfest grounds. Register to attend today.