New data from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism indicates Milwaukee tourism’s return to pre-pandemic levels is within sight. The data shows strong growth for 2021 and continues to show that the Greater Milwaukee area is the state’s largest tourism market, accounting for 25 percent of total tourism economic impact to the state. Tourism's total impact on the Greater Milwaukee area totaled $5.2 billion in 2021, just 11.9% down from 2019's record-breaking amount. Year over year, Milwaukee County’s tourism economy grew 19.5% in 2021.

“Last year saw the return of some incredible tourism drivers for our economy, including Summerfest, Wisconsin State Fair, Juneteenth Day, Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, president & CEO of VISIT Milwaukee. “These annual festivals were in addition to major events like Ryder Cup and USA Triathlon, plus a slew of youth sports events, and we’d be remiss not to mention the impact of the Milwaukee Bucks championship run, which generated a significant amount of impact and exposure.” 

“This fantastic level of growth in tourism is a testament to the collective effort of VISIT Milwaukee and our partners to generate interest and demand after a devastating 2020,” Williams-Smith said. “It’s obvious that visitors have noticed the many good things brewing in Milwaukee and we expect 2022 to continue this trend.” 

In 2021 in Milwaukee County:

  • Direct visitor spending totaled $1.77 billion – down 20% from 2019
  • Tourism supported 25,092 full-time jobs – down 25% from 2019
  • Labor income from tourism totaled $1.1. billion -- down only 12% from 2019
  • State and local taxes generated from tourism totaled $188.4 million – down 27.5% from 2019
  • Total business sales because of tourism totaled $3.3 billion – down only 15.4% from 2019
  • In the Greater Milwaukee area (Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties):  
  • Direct visitor spending totaled $2.75 billion, down 17% from 2019  
  • Tourism supported 41,509 jobs, down 22% from 2019
  • Labor income from tourism totaled $1.68 billion, down 9% from 2019
  • State and local taxes generated from tourism totaled $296.3 million, down 24% from 2019
  • Total business sales due to tourism totaled $5.2 billion, down just 11.9% from 2019

The numbers are estimates from The Economic Impact of Tourism in Wisconsin, an annual tourism impact study commissioned by the state and conducted by Tourism Economics. See more data, including the county-by-county breakdown, here.

VISIT Milwaukee will celebrate the growth in tourism and all those who make tourism happen at its Annual Meeting on June 29 at 3:30 p.m. at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. Register to attend today.