Spending in the County grew 6.4%, while the Greater Milwaukee area helped deliver a historic year for tourism statewide, accounting for 25.5% of total tourism impact in Wisconsin


Driven by leisure and convention business, direct visitor spending in Milwaukee County in 2023 grew 6.4% year over year, surpassing the domestic inflation rate by 2% and contributing $2.342 billion to the local economy. The Greater Milwaukee area also set an all-time tourism spending record with a $6.388 billion total economic impact in 2023, according to data released today by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.


Thanks to Milwaukee Bucks, Brewers, Admirals and Wave post-season appearances, USA Triathlon’s largest-ever Milwaukee event, continued high volumes of cruise visitors, and a robust lineup of concerts and festivals, Milwaukee’s diverse array of visitor offerings helped drive Wisconsin to a historic year for tourism impact in 2023. The Greater Milwaukee area remains the No. 1 contributor to the state’s tourism economy, and its share of that impact grew even more in 2023 by roughly $358 million and now accounts for 25.5% of all tourism spending in the state.


Investing in destination marketing efforts through Visit Milwaukee continues to provide substantial returns for the region. Direct visitor spending in 2023 totaled $3.525 billion in the four-county region with $2.342 billion in Milwaukee County alone – a significant boost for our community, and the businesses and over 27,000 hospitality employees that call Milwaukee County home. Direct visitor spending represents the dollars that flow directly from a visitor’s wallet into a Milwaukee business.


“We had an amazing 2023, and we are looking forward to continued growth in 2024,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee. “My team at Visit Milwaukee works tirelessly with partners to maximize awareness of Milwaukee and its world-class amenities. Milwaukee has so much going for us -- the stunning Baird Center expansion is now open, “Top Chef” showing the world the caliber of our culinary scene, and all the major events happening here in 2024, I’m positive that our trend of year-over-year increases will continue.”


The four-county tourism industry’s 2023 economic impact beat the previous record of $6.018 billion, set just last year. 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 hosted the filming of “Top Chef: Wisconsin” and earned recognition as one of the nation’s best big cities in the Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards and one of Lonely Planet’s Best Destinations to Travel in 2023, all of which raised the destination’s profile in the minds of travelers. With marketing partnerships like that with Bucks’ Sixth Man Bobby Portis, a second season of Visit Milwaukee’s television show “Good Things Brewing,” popular promotions like Milwaukee Hotel Month and Museum Days, which drove occupancy in slower winter months, among other innovative campaigns, Visit Milwaukee's marketing initiatives continue to show positive returns. 


According to 2023 data from Tourism Economics, a typical Milwaukee County visitor stays 1.4 days, 71.4% of visitors stay overnight and 35.6% 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%), though 2023 marked a year for growth in key out-of-state markets, including Minneapolis-St. Paul and Des Moines, Iowa, all of which are markets airing “Good Things Brewing.”


In 2023 in Milwaukee County:

  • Direct visitor spending totaled $2.342 billion – up 6.4% from 2022
  • Tourism supported 27,226 full-time jobs – up 2.1% from 2022
  • Labor Income from tourism totaled $1.356 billion – up 3.4% from 2022
  • State and local taxes generated from tourism totaled $231.1 million – up 6.6% from 2022
  • Total business sales because of tourism totaled $4.167 billion – up 6.2% from 2022

In the four-county Greater Milwaukee area:

  • Direct visitor spending totaled $3.525 billion - up 5.91% from 2022
  • Tourism supported 43,988 full-time jobs - up 1.84% from 2022
  • Labor income from tourism totaled $2.022 billion - up 4.01% from 2022
  • State and local taxes generated from tourism totaled $353 million -  up 6.32% from 2022
  • Total business sales because of tourism in the Greater Milwaukee area totaled $6.388 billion – up 5.93% from 2022

Top 10 visitor origin state in 2023:

  • Wisconsin       29.6%
  • Illinois             25.5%
  • Iowa                4.5%
  • Minnesota       3.5%
  • Michigan         3.4%
  • Indiana            3.3%
  • Missouri          3.1%
  • Texas              2.9%
  • Florida             2.6%
  • Ohio                2.1%

Top 10 visitor origin metropolitan areas in 2023:

  • Chicago, IL                                              21.6%
  • Green Bay-Appleton                               12.4%
  • Madison                                                    9.1%
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN                         3.5%
  • Wausau-Rhinelander                                2.8%
  • Rockford, IL                                              2.2%
  • La Crosse-Eau Claire                               2.1%
  • St. Louis, MO                                           1.9%
  • Des Moines-Ames, IA                              1.9%
  • Davenport, IA-Rock Island-Moline, IL      1.6%

Additional data from the Tourism Economics impact study, including a county-by-county breakdown, can be accessed here. Learn more about the visitors who choose Milwaukee here.

Visit Milwaukee will celebrate the growth in tourism and all those who make tourism happen at its Annual Meeting on June 18 at 3 p.m. at the newly expanded Baird Center. Register to attend today.