WIGCOT 2023: The State of Wisconsin Tourism

XX min
Mar 28, 2023
Image of a keynote speech at a conference
For those not familiar, WIGCOT is a gathering of destination marketing organizations, tourism attractions, and vendors to discuss one of Wisconsin’s largest industries: tourism.

This is a big event and Ascedia being a long-time partner with Wisconsin Tourism had our team there to capture all the golden nuggets.

The takeaways:

  • Travel is back: People’s renewed interest in the outdoor rec space has continued post-pandemic and this vertical of tourism is still exploding.
  • The importance of being inclusive: Brands that are inclusive both on and off the “camera” show higher ROI on what they’re selling. This is valuable to travelers. Now, more than ever, people want to know they will feel welcome when traveling.
  • There is no unified experience in America anymore:In today’s world, we live in our echo chambers meaning audiences are increasingly segmented. Given this, travel organizations must meet audiences where they are and speak to them in relevant ways.
  • Tourism + Labor:There was an interesting conversation about Wisconsin’s labor shortage and how Tourism is promoting employment and residence in Wisconsin. One organization even started to assimilate its branding with Travel Wisconsin in hopes it creates a more well-rounded message for people working/living in Wisconsin.
  • The positive impact of the pandemic: Traveling has helped people remember what they were missing during the pandemic. This has encouraged people to travel more, even if it’s smaller road trips vs. larger vacations.

Overarching themes:

  • Changing behaviors: TikTok is powerful and is becoming used as a way for people to see real, unfiltered videos of a destination. Younger generations are using TikTok to help plan their travel. So what’s the takeaway? Get good at producing videos on this platform.
  • Data. Data. Data: Big data and small data, both are useful when making marketing decisions at any level of budget. Organizations must be able to access this information and use it to influence marketing decisions.
  • Use what you have: Throughout the conference, there were a lot of questions regarding what small businesses or DMOs can/should do with very limited budgets. The best single answer is to begin using what you do have and build from there.

What’s going well in Wisconsin tourism? What isn’t?

  • Growth for Wisconsin: The state tourism industry was above average in 2021 when compared to immediate competitors. And travel spending data for January from the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) in collaboration with Tourism Economics shows the national average is up 3.6%. And Wisconsin numbers are up almost 9%!
  • A recession is coming: But that doesn’t mean people will stop traveling. When the pandemic took away their option for travel it became a necessity post-pandemic and was prioritized. Travelers are expected to reduce the number of trips they take and may opt to drive instead of fly, but they’ll still be traveling.
  • Forget the recession: Data indicates that families who make $50k or less in a year might be the largest group to be affected and who would be traveling less. It’s also showing that while we thought things might become tighter by Q2, that timing is shifting further out into the year and is now looking more like Q3. If it happens at all.

Other points of note:

  • The importance of customer feedback: Speakers from Kwik Trip, Culvers, and the Packers all talked about how they establish connections with their audiences. These organizations leaned into this data and use it to help them make their brand unique and different in today’s crowded marketplace.
  • The Culvers example: Culver’s started promoting they were Wisconsin based to other markets outside of Wisconsin. And once they started — they soon realized this was a clear and unique selling point.
  • The importance of being authentic: Every speaker our team heard from reinforced the need to be authentic and real to who you are, or the factor(s) your audience will call you out for. These points are critical to roll into all forms of messaging. It also reinforces the value of user-generated content.
That’s a wrap. The location for next year’s WIGCOT will be in beautiful Lake Geneva.