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Local tourism spending jumped by $15.7 million in 2017 as La Crosse County experienced some of the fastest growth in Wisconsin.

Visitors spent nearly $264 million last year in La Crosse County, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Only eight of Wisconsin’s 72 counties ranked higher in overall spending, while La Crosse experienced the 10th fastest growth rate from 2016 to 2017.

A.J. Frels, executive director of the La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau, couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the 6.3 percent growth in direct spending but said a wide variety of attractions and activities make the county an appealing destination.

“Everything we have to offer is what makes it work,” he said.

A.J. Frels

Frels

State officials say low gas prices, better wages and stronger consumer confidence for overall growth in tourism.

Since 2015, the completion of five new hotels have added 459 rooms in La Crosse and increased the county’s lodging capacity by about 25 percent, which Frels said has helped. Lodging — including the purchase of second homes — is the largest single category of visitor spending, according to the state report.

Frels said the visitors bureau will continue working to attract guests from Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison as well as the Twin Cities, which he said has become a larger source for La Crosse tourism.

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Meanwhile the CVB is focused on retaining some of the large conventions next year when the La Crosse Center is expected to undergo major renovations.

“That’s going to be a big challenge,” Frels said. “Every day that is in the forefront of our minds.”

According to the Department of Tourism report, tourism supported about 4,387 jobs in La Crosse County last year and generated about $33 million in state and local tax revenue.

Statewide spending was $12.7 billion, a gain of about 3 percent from 2016, based on an estimated 110 million visitors.

Milwaukee County tops the list with nearly $2 billion in direct tourism spending, while Dane and Sauk, home of Wisconsin Dells, each topped $1 billion. Eau Claire County, with 12.5 percent growth, jumped several places into the number 10 spot.


Chris Hubbuch can be reached at 608-791-8217. Follow him on Twitter @chrishubbuch. 

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