Pandemic hurts tourism in Douglas County

Officials hopeful for a better year in 2021 as more people plan to travel.
Tourists gather at Amnicon Falls State Park to walk around and swim in the falls in August 2020. While tourism was down in 2020, Travel Superior President and CEO Taylor Pedersen is hopeful for a good year in 2021. (Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram)

Tourism took a hit in Douglas County in 2020.

Travelers to Douglas County spent $82.7 million in director visitor spending and $124.4 million in total business sales in 2020, a 22% decline from 2019, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

The findings are part of a study conducted by Tourism Economics.

Statewide, travelers spent $9.8 billion in direct visitor spending and $17.2 billion in total business sales.

“Unfortunately, these numbers are not surprising to us and are in line with the indicators we use to gauge tourism,” said Taylor Pedersen, president and CEO of Travel Superior. “Tourism was one of the most negatively impacted industries from the effects of the pandemic, and we anticipate that the climb back to pre-pandemic levels will continue to be gradual.”


Despite the pandemic, Wisconsin still welcomed 90.7 million visitors and supported over 107,500 jobs in the state.

Locally, the hospitality and tourism industry supported 1,088 jobs in Superior and Douglas County in 2020, contributing to $28.2 million in labor income and $9.3 million in state and local taxes.

Superior and Douglas County’s position as a strong outdoor recreation destination helped support the industry despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.

“In some respects we are fortunate that our region and county has bounced back as quickly as we have,” Pedersen said. “Many areas continue to struggle more than we are, and we aren’t even through this yet. We have a strong sense of community, and we need to continue to support one another as we move ahead. Travel Superior looks forward to what we hope will be a strong tourism year in 2021.”

Recovery campaign efforts are well underway. National research shows that 87% of Americans plan to travel in the next six months.

“I think people want to get out and that’s what national polls are showing,” Pedersen said.

Gov. Tony Evers has committed $50 million out of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the tourism and hospitality industries bounce back in Wisconsin. Travel Superior has and continues to work diligently to attract visitors to the Superior and Douglas County region.

“We’re really well-positioned,” Pedersen said. “We’re extremely drivable from a number of major metros. We have great roads. We have great airports. We’re sitting in a good spot … we really have a niche when it comes to outdoor recreation and that’s been seen all along as a great and safe activity throughout the pandemic. I’m hopeful that we’re going to see a good tourism year.”

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