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March 04, 2014 | 05:14 PMIf every board meeting was like a session of the Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism, every village and city hall would be packed if Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett presided over them.
She wore a bright pink blazer and cracked jokes during the Sunday session of the Governor’s Council on Tourism meeting.
The conference, held Sunday, March 2 to Tuesday, March 4 at The Grand Geneva Resort, is an annual meeting of tourism industry specialists.
Held at different points throughout the state, the conference won’t be back in Lake Geneva for another seven years. Klett, a former Miss Wisconsin and Discover Wisconsin host, called Lake Geneva her “special spot.”
“This is where I play,” she said during in interview on March 3. “So having people from all 72 counties come to Lake Geneva and being able to share that feeling with them is a high for me. It’s great to be here.”
Born and still living in Beloit, Klett said she’s walked all 21 miles of the Geneva Lake Shore Path in one day.
“Meeting my girlfriends here and eating at Popeye’s or finding a great restaurant, it’s just the perfect day,” she said.
Klett said the more she travels Wisconsin, the more excited she gets about promoting tourism in the state.
“I’ve been traveling nonstop for 25 years,” she said. “This will be four years as secretary. The more you do the traveling, the more it all gets in your blood.”
Klett said she can’t hide her excitement for the state when she meets with other tourism professionals.
“Each city and town in the state has a different feel,” she said. “This job (secretary of tourism) is like Discover Wisconsin on caffeine. I love it. I’m addicted to travel.”
Discover Wisconsin is the longest running tourism program in the U.S. The four-member crew visits sites across the state and showcases them on TV and radio.
Wisconsin advertising campaign
Klett said when she started as secretary, the Department of Tourism decided to cut all of the catch phrases and mottos from Wisconsin tourism campaigns.
Instead, the department was going to focus on all the fun in Wisconsin, Klett said while presenting at the conference.
Klett said the department has studied trends in tourism, and future ads and department spending will be focused in those directions.
“People are traveling with a purpose,” she said. “They’re on agri-tourism or culinary trips. They’re after an adventure. They’re going for a reason.”
Klett also said cruises, pet travel and green trips are all increasing.
“Also, single travel is up,” she said. “Travel writer Andrew McCarthy said the power of traveling alone is that you get to know your best self.”
Klett said that 20 years ago, she often felt odd traveling alone. That’s not the case anymore.
“Now, no one gives it a second thought when you’re sitting in a diner by yourself,” she said.
Gov. Scott Walker said Wisconsin is perfect for all those trends.
“We have something for everyone in this state,” he said. “We have great people in this state, and that’s what counts.”
Walker said he worked at the McDonald’s and Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan while in high school.
“When I think back about the trips I’ve been on, it’s not just about the attractions I’ve seen,” he said. “Those are memories. It was the attractions that made the memories. It was the way people made me feel there. It’s the people that bring (tourists) back again and again to Wisconsin. People are what make it a good experience.”
Three Wisconsin tourism ads were premiered at the conference. The ads star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Hays in the original cockpit from the 1980 film “Airplane!”
Abdul-Jabbar and Hays were at the conference to answer questions about the experience of being in the cockpit again, along with ad writers and producers Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrahams.
Abdul-Jabbar said it was a lot of fun to be back on a movie set.
“I talk to a lot of pilots and stewardesses that can relate to that movie,” he said. “It was much better than anything Shaq ever did.”
Abdul-Jabbar played with the Milwaukee Bucks from 1969 to 1975.
His co-star for the ads, actor Robert Hays said the “Airplane!” based ads work well for Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin has a great sense of humor,” he said. “The movie has kind of stayed in the public’s conscience, so the references work.” The ads will start airing this summer.
Lake Geneva welcome
Lake Geneva Mayor Jim Connors and Convention and Visitors Bureau President Darien Schaefer welcomed the tourism industry guests to the Grand Geneva Monday morning.
Connors said Lake Geneva started as an escape for Chicagoans after the 1871 fire, and it still is an escape for anyone who wants to get away.
Schaefer called the area a premier resort destination because of the environment.
“All that is built around Geneva Lake is because of the lake,” he said. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come (and work) here.”