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Co-op promotion emphasized at tourism summit



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May 13, 2014 | 01:21 PM
DELAVAN — It wasn’t all business at the tourism summit held last Tuesday at Lake Lawn Resort.

The theme of the event, sponsored by the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, was “travel effect.”

Of course, the participants were touting the latest statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism which ranked Walworth County sixth in the state for tourism spending. Walworth County brought in $477 million — a 4.94 percent increase from 2012.

Moderator Darien Schaefer, the president of the chamber, pointed out that Walworth County gained $15 million on Brown County, which ranks fifth.

He also noted that visitors to Walworth County generated $60.6 million in state and local taxes, a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year.

Various versions of the tourism theme were repeated throughout the event, but there was also a generous bit of information about area history, new business and educational ventures and hopes for the future.

Among the speakers:

Tammie Carstensen, chairperson of the CVB board of directors, noted that for every $1 spent promoting tourism in the state, there is a $6 return. She emphasized the need for businesses to play off each other and area events. “Let’s dance within our own circle. Not out of the box,” she said.

Mark Hladish Sr., director of operations at Rosewood, an entertainment facility that’s yet to open, emphasized cooperation between businesses, especially in marketing.

Rosewood will be developed at the site of the former Millie’s Restaurant, which closed in 2013.

Bill Gage, owner of Lake Geneva Cruise Line, noted that the cruise line is the oldest inland excursion boat system in the country. “We don’t have a product that anyone really needs,” he said. “So we have to make it inviting.”

He noted, as did several others, that the shore path seems to be an under promoted area attraction.

Gage also echoed the theme that the area should be working to develop tourism beyond just the summer.

Karen Jo Walsh, director of the Geneva Lake Museum, talked about how the museum’s attendance has tripled in two years. And it’s all been accomplished with two part-time employees, she said.

She said that a big part of the success was created by taking away most of the barriers between the displays and the visitors. She called the museum “a tactile memory bank.”

Kevin Fleming, head of the Lake Geneva Business Improvement District, explained the BID’s history and purpose. Starting in 1991, the BID spends money to enhance the downtown for improvements like flowers, Christmas decorations and lights.

David Desimone, site director at Black Point Estate, noted a survey they took which indicated that 70 percent of their visitors are “day-trippers” who stay for an average of 14 hours.

Sue Pruessing, marketing and public relations manager of the Walworth County Fair, outlined some of the fair’s history. Among the tidbits:

The first fair in the county was in 1849, 12 years before the Civil War. While the fair has always been “no alcohol,” Pruessing was surprised to find a photo in their archives of a man holding a beer in front of a “beer for sale” sign.

She hasn’t determined whether that was at the fair or some other event.

Harness racing, which once filled the grandstands, is an important tradition of the fair but no longer draws large crowds.

Jim Gee, Yerkes Observatory manager, discussed some of their new initiatives, especially in reaching out to the blind.

He also mentioned the recent history of the observatory including the unsuccessful attempt to purchase the Yerkes property by a group wanting to build condos.

David Spiegelberg, regional tourism specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, discussed the state’s tourism campaign and noted that 38 percent of travelers go back to a destination that they’ve gone to before — which means once they’ve come to Wisconsin, they’re likely to return.

Other speakers included: Julie Baron, president of Communications Works who discussed public relations, Lake Geneva Mayor Jim Connors who outlined the proposal for a parking garage, Kevin Brunner, director at Walworth County Central Services and Public Works, who previewed the county’s new park development, and Derek D’Auria, development director for George Williams College and Music by the Lake.

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