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Douglas County gains in tourism

Left to right, front row, Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen and Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn, back row, Andrew Nussbaum with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Dave Minor, president and CEO of the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County gather at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center Tuesday to tout the county’s tourism success in 2013. (Maria Lockwood)

Douglas County was tops in tourism last year.

The county saw an increase of over 10 percent in direct visitor spending in 2013 over 2012, the largest increase of all 72 counties in Wisconsin.

Calumet County came in second place with an increase of 9.87 percent followed by St. Croix County with an 8.48 percent increase.

A study by Tourism Economics shows the impact of tourism on the state’s economy was $17.5 billion in 2013, an overall increase of just over 4 percent.

“Tourism is a major industry force up here in the Northland,” said Dave Minor, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County during a Tuesday press conference. “It is something that we take very seriously, we’re very proud of because we have so many different attributes to promote.”

Visitor spending rose to $81.98 million in Douglas County last year and provided 1,238 jobs. Although tourism spending has gone up every year, the double-digit increase is the largest the county has seen for more than a dozen years.

What is luring visitors to Douglas County?

“Of course we have this little body of water behind us called Lake Superior that everybody wants to come see, but there are so many other things to do,” Minor said.

The 2013 increase wasn’t linked to any one activity.

Back-to-back snowy winters helped, said Andrew “Drew” Nussbaum, regional tourism specialist with the Department of Tourism. So did the local economy.

“Tourism is hand-in-hand with economic growth,” Nussbaum said. Strong industries bring in workers, and more jobs are required to take care of them.

The state’s investment in tourism also made a difference. Every $1 spent promoting the state nets a $6 return, according to Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen.

Every county in Northwest Wisconsin saw an increase in tourism impact in 2013, Nussbaum said.

“And that pre-dates the ice cave traffic,” he said.

The challenge is to keep those numbers rising.

Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn suggested adding more stop signs to give visitors a chance to notice Douglas County’s many attractions. He also encouraged people to share the area’s four-season secrets with others.

“It’s up to all of us to be promoters, to be positive, to speak well of Douglas County,” Finn said.

Tourism is, at heart, about people. Other counties and states have lakes, trails and museums, Minor said, but Douglas County’s people are unique. Local customer service employees are on the front line of tourism. If they make visitors feel welcome, Minor said, they’ll be back.

As part of National Tourism Week, residents were encouraged to become tourists in their own towns.

“Sometimes we forget to find things in our own back yard,” Minor said. Douglas County is home to Amnicon Falls State Park, winner of the Department of Natural Resources treasures contest, and Pattison State Park, which features the highest waterfalls in Wisconsin. Peek into the past at the Richard I Bong Veterans Historical Center and Fairlawn Museum. Follow in the footsteps of five U.S. presidents by fishing the Brule River, walk the sandy beach of Wisconsin Point or visit A World of Accordions Museum.

As part of National Tourism Week, Fairlawn offers half-priced tours Sunday. Everyone can sign up for a prize drawing for a Douglas County getaway package through the Superior-Douglas County Visitors Bureau Facebook page.