The success of Lake Geneva’s ice castle attraction this winter is enriching local government coffers with a sharp increase in tax revenue from local hotels.
The city is reporting that hotel taxes in January and February this year generated $63,321 in revenue, up more than 14 percent from last year’s $55,465 collected during the same period.
Hotel operators say the jump in tax collections is driven by large crowds that flocked to Lake Geneva during the winter for the new ice castle tourist attraction.
Bella Vista Suites manager Harlan James said the popular new winter attraction brought more people into town and more guests into the hotels.
“For sure, it definitely was a reason,” James said. “Pretty much, everyone who came to town was here for the ice castle.”
The ice castle operated for six weeks between late January and early March at Riviera Beach, treating children and adults to a frozen outdoor funhouse complete with slides, tunnels, fountains and other interactive features.
Inclement weather delayed the ice castle’s grand opening and disrupted operations periodically. But the first-time new addtion to winter tourism in Lake Geneva was widely hailed as a success.
Ryan Davis, president of the company Ice Castles LLC, said the company would not disclose attendance figures, although he said visitor surveys showed that at least 4,000 hotel room stays were generated in the Lake Geneva area.
Several patrons indicated that they planned to stay overnight at a hotel after visiting the ice castle, Davis said.
“It was a great winter for us,” he added.
Lake Geneva’s hotel room tax figures do not include hotels outside the city limits, such as the Grand Geneva Resort in the town of Lyons or the Abbey Resort in Fontana.
Lake Geneva’s hotel room tax is 5 percent collected on each customer’s hotel bill.
Mayor Tom Hartz said the tax revenue is used to fund the city’s tourism commission, to contribute to VISIT Lake Geneva’s regional tourism efforts, and also to fund other city operations.
“We try to generate more people staying at the hotels, which then translates into more room tax dollars,” Hartz said. “So, it’s a circular effort.”
The mayor said the city uses a portion of the revenue to hire city staff and to make infrastructure improvements.
“We need more police and public works employees, because of the additional tourists,” he said.
The city worked closely with ice castle organizers to plan the new attraction at Riviera Beach, which opened Jan. 23 and closed March 9.
Hotel room tax figures show that revenue in January totaled $26,128 compared with $23,434 in January 2018, and that revenue in February totaled $37,193 compared with $32,031 in February 2018.
Area hotel operators cheered the boost in business brought by the ice castle.
“I think it was a contributing factor,” said Kim Yopp, manager at the Geneva Inn in the town of Linn. “I think the ice castle helped bring more people to the area.”
Yopp said several of the hotel’s guests who were surveyed indicated that they came to the area to tour the ice structure.
Despite the increase in January and February, room sales tax revenue for March dropped to $35,274, down from $43,138 collected in March 2018.
Tammie Carstensen, a hotel manager who also is chairwoman of the city tourism commission, said snow and freezing rain in early March might have slowed traffic to the ice castle.
“I’m going to pin it on the weather,” she said.
Carstensen, who is general manager of Harbor Shores hotel, said the ice castle brought crowds to Lake Geneva during what was otherwise a difficult winter season when extreme weather would have hurt tourism.
“If you look at the weather we had this winter, our numbers should have been horrible,” she said.
Others attributed the March decrease in hotel tax dollars to a normal seasonal transition.
“February was busy with Winterfest and ice castle,” James said. “March is usually a slow month.”
Hotel operators also feel encouraged that the ice castle
The hotel managers said they feel the ice castle will continue to pay dividends as visitors who enjoyed the winter attraction help consider options for their summer travel destinations.
Carstensen said Lake Geneva got a lot of attention both locally and nationally due to the ice castle.
“It put us on the map,” she said. “I think it will help make use a year-round destination.”
Yopp said several people who stayed at the Geneva Inn during the winter indicated that they planned to return this summer.
“Many guests who were here during the winter asked what was going on during the summer,” she said. “So, I do think it was a big help.”