MARINETTE — Tourism is big business in Marinette County, and its impact on the county’s economy is continuing to grow.

Total business sales related to tourism rose to $228 million in 2018, according to Travel Wisconsin statistics presented Tuesday by City of Marinette and Marinette County Marketing & Tourism Director Melissa Ebsch to the county’s Development Committee.

Visitors to the county last year supported 1,578 jobs with a total personal income of $32.7 million. Marinette County generated $15.4 million in state and local taxes in 2018 and room tax revenue rose 1.9 percent.

“All across the board in Marinette County we have gone up with our numbers,” said Ebsch, who is a city employee doing marketing and tourism promotion for the county through a county contract with the city.

Statewide in 2018, according to Travel Wisconsin, tourism accounted for 112 million visitors and business sales totaling $21.6 billion, sustained 199,000 jobs and generated $1.6 billion in state and local taxes and $1.2 billion in federal taxes.

Ebsch said her plans for this year to boost tourism in the county include billboard advertising, appearances at expositions, radio shows, advertising and stories in various publications, applying for a grant from the state, a television show and videos, and distribution of county visitor guides.

She said the primary focus of her promotion efforts are to market the county’s waterfalls, parks, camping and ATV trails to residents of Chicago and bigger markets in southern Wisconsin such as Milwaukee and Madison. 

“Our primary target is Illinois,” said Ebsch, who plans attend a show in Chicago again this year. “The majority of our visitors are coming from Chicago, it’s easy for them to come up here and visit us.  Some are also coming from Iowa and Minnesota.”

The marketing to Illinois included advertising for the first time in the Wisconsin Summer Getaway Guide, which reaches selected Chicago area communities. The one-page ad, which includes seven photos, says “Experience Marinette County, Waterfalls Capital of Wisconsin, Adventure Starts Here.” It urges people to request a free visitors guide by calling 800-715-9109 or by visiting www.VisitTheRealNorth.com.

“We are going to 100,000 people in 10 communities,” Ebsch explained. “We track how many are calling from those areas and how many are coming to our website from those communities. That way we can see data to reflect if this is a good thing, or that maybe we need to move into a different market. I’ve seen an uptick in requests (for information about the county) just in the last three weeks. Momentum is already happening. I’m looking at doing this again around September to kick off our winter weekends, to get people to come up for our snow adventures.”

Other promotions of the county in publications have included ads and articles in the Badger Sportsman and Wisconsin Outdoors.

She said the promotion in Badger Sportsman included a lengthy article written by her which includes profiles and photos of county parks and waterfalls and details on the Harmony Arboretum, equestrian acitivities, ATV/UTV and snowmobile trails.

The county’s advertising in Wiscconsin Outdoors includes contact information, a full-page ad and an article written by Ebsch about the county with details on county parks and waterfalls.

“Wisconsin Outdoors goes to all the Kwik Trips in Wisconsin and Illinois,” Ebsch said.

“Don’t overlook the states of Iowa and Minnesota,” said Supervisor Ted Sauve, committee chairperson. He said when he and his wife formerly operated a motel in Marinette, many of their customers came from those two states. 

“I’m not ignoring them, that was a big topic at the Governor’s Conference (on Tourism),” Ebsch said. “I’m looking at where we can gain the most (visitors).”

She said work is taking place on developing nine videos about the county, focusing on its waterfalls, trail system, communities and camping.

Ebsch said planning is also taking place for a segment of the popular PBS show, “Around the Corner” to focus on Marinette County.

“John McGivern and his people are going to be coming to Marinette, probably within the next month,” she said. “They’ll be doing one of his shows here. They will be here for a week. For anyone familiar with John McGivern, that’s exciting.”

The County Board of Supervisors voted in March for the county to seek a JEM (Joint Effort Marketing) grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism to help promote the county’s extensive parks system, with Forestry and Parks Administrator Pete Villas to administer the use of the grant if it is received. Ebsch, said, however, that after she and Villas met with Jeff Anderson of Travel Wisconsin, it was decided the county should instead apply for a Destination Marking Grant. She said they are about 60 percent of the way toward completing an application for a grant, which must be submitted to the state by Sept. 1.

“The grant we’re looking for would be for almost $40,000,” she said. “We plan to start using these funds in 2020, and the focus would be to engage consumers from Chicago to visit Marinette with the primary focus on the waterfalls, parks and camping. Pete has the data about where they’re (the visitors) coming from (right now) and how long they’re staying.

“The marketing dollars will be spent in larger markets like Chicago and Milwaukee and not locally.”

Ebsch said her efforts to market events to area residents have included appearances periodically on shows on radio stations in Marinette and Iron Mountain, Mich.

“We’re getting coverage all the way from Marquette (Mich.) to Clintonville (Wis.),” she said. “So I think we’re covering a very large local area.”